Junior club final gets Croker green light
THE final of the AIB All-Ireland junior club football final will definitely go ahead at Croke Park, despite the dramatic semi-final deadlock between Castleknock and Kenmare.
The decider was due to take place at headquarters this Saturday, as part of a double-header with the intermediate final between Finuge and Cookstown (7.15).
That 5.30 slot has had to be allocated to the second semi-final replay between two sides who will face another epic struggle after 160 minutes of football.
That sparked immediate speculation that the junior final might be moved to another venue, and that Ballinasloe, who have already qualified for it, might not get their big day out on the GAA's hallowed turf.
But Croker officials allayed those fears yesterday, stressing that the Connacht champions will still get their day in the sun.
"We still have a few dates available at Croke Park after this weekend and the junior final will still definitely go ahead there," a spokesman said.
The chance to play at Jones Road is every player's dream and, since the introduction of All-Ireland junior and intermediate club championships in 2004, is now a possibility for ordinary club players.
Castleknock and Kenmare's extraordinary semi-final tussle, which has seen their two meetings go to extra-time, means that one of them will now get to play at Croker twice.
"It is just fairytale stuff really. If you saw it in the movies you probably wouldn't believe it," said Kenmare trainer Enda Crowley, who has the difficult job of readying his players for a third semi-final in three weeks.
"The field the first day was very heavy so I think the players suffered more after that than they did last weekend," he said.
"Fortunately, we did not pick up any new injuries and, like we did last week, we will just train once mid-week and the lads will do a few pool sessions to loosen out."
Despite pre-Christmas knee surgery, Kenmare's Stephen O'Brien came off the bench the first day, but he was not able to play any part last week and will not be ready for next weekend's keenly-anticipated rematch.
In his absence, Ciaran Kilkenny and Kerry panellist Paul O'Connor have starred, both scoring 0-10 (6f) last weekend, when a goal by Rory Corcoran put Castleknock in the driving seat.
But Kenmare fought back with seven unanswered points and it needed a late surge from the Dubliners to take it into extra-time.
They went three clear, but the Kerry side hit back and Castleknock needed a late leveller from substitute Tom Shields to keep their dream alive.
Kilkenny – a former underage dual star – abandoned his AFL career with Hawthorn after a month to return to pursue club glory and when Castleknock's odyssey eventually ends, he will immediately join the Dublin senior football panel.