Saturday 20 October 2018

Rathnew need something special to topple giants

Dublin champions are red-hot favourites to progress

Diarmuid Connolly of St Vincent’s strides forward during the county final against Ballymun Kickhams.
Diarmuid Connolly of St Vincent’s strides forward during the county final against Ballymun Kickhams.
Rathnew celebrate after winning the Wicklow Senior football championship.

Richard Clune, Sports reporter

Rathnew welcome the might of St Vincent's to Joule Park, Aughrim on Sunday in a game that isn't so much David vs Goliath and more so David vs Goliath along with a few of his friends.

If Rathnew win it will go down as one of the biggest shocks in GAA history, though they'll back themselves to pull it off.

For those who don't know, St Vincent's is the most successful club team in Dublin football, 29 time winners of the Senior Football championship and they have only been beaten once in Dublin in the last five years.

They are reigning Leinster club champions and have won the Leinster championship seven times, sharing the record number of provincial titles with Portlaoise. Their 1975, 2007 and 2013 provincial crowns were translated into All Ireland club victories.

Undoubtedly the most familiar name on the St Vincent's team sheet is Diarmuid Connolly. Possibly the most skilful footballer in the game, he will wear 11 and either act as play maker for his other forward colleagues or move into the full forward line and kick scores from either foot.

Ross O'Brien, more than likely, will be tasked with stopping him and while O'Brien is one of the finest defenders in the county, Connolly put in a man of the match performance in the Dublin final, roasting two-time All Star Philly McMahon along the way.

He likes to give virtuoso performances from centre forward, kicking 40 yard pin-point passes through the eye of a needle and land them in the arms of a teammate.

Rathnew's only possible respite from Connolly's irresistible force of nature is that he's carrying an injury and may not be at his best, with the small chance that he won't be fit to play. If he's not at his best, well St Vincent's can call on a few others to carry the load, not least 2011 All Ireland winner Tomás 'Mossy' Quinn and former Mayo forward Enda Varley.

Quinn has starred as the recipient in a number of Connolly's highlight reel passes and while he finished playing inter-county football in 2012 Quinn is still one of the best club footballers in Dublin.

He will wear 15 while Varley will be in the other corner and will torment his marker with his gifted left foot. Paul Merrigan and Jamie Snell will have their work cut out.

Rathnew can only hope that St Vincent's will have a day in front of goal like they did in the county final against Ballymun Kickhams. It was a very low scoring game, 1-08 to 8 points, and the Marino based club went fifteen minutes either side of half-time scoreless and then didn't score for the last fifteen minutes either.

On that day the St Vincent's defence came to the fore with immaculate tackling and work rate to stop a Ballymun attack which boasted Dean Rock at centre forward. James McCarthy, All Ireland final Man of the Match and Player of the Year nominee, was outshone at midfield.

After the match Dublin GAA analyst Ray Boyne had some statistics on the final with St Vincent's executing 64 successful tackles compared to Ballymun Kickhams' 38, three times the number of successful pass interceptions and forced Ballymun into losing the ball in contact more often.

It all paints a picture that if Rathnew can somehow limit the St Vincent's attack they have to negotiate their way past a very miserly defence led by former All Ireland winner Ger Brennan at centre back.

As Harry Murphy said after his side's victory over Newtown Blues in the first round of the Leinster club championship, Rathnew haven't put in a full performance over the last few matches.

In the county final they had a wonderful first half followed by a second half in which they almost blew an eight point lead. Against Newtown Blues they only scored one point in the first half before a much improved second half.

For Rathnew to have any chance against St Vincent's they will have to dig deep into their well of immense self-belief and produce a performance for the ages.

They will start without goalkeeper Peter Dignam who has picked up a one match ban for his involvement in the row that marred their victory over Newtown Blues. Johnny Byrne is in line to take his place.

Out the field there may be some concern for Leighton Glynn who didn't start Glenealy's Leinster championship match though he should be fit to play on Sunday. Where will Harry Murphy play him?

In the county final he played at corner forward and was involved in all but one of Rathnew's first half scores. Against Newtown Blues he was isolated in corner forward and when he moved out the field after 20 minutes the Village's fortunes changed and they got a foothold in midfield.

He is such an influential player and Murphy may be robbing Peter to pay Paul wherever Glynn lines out.

James Stafford will have to put in one of his vintage performances while the likes of Theo Smith, Graham Merrigan and Nicky Mernagh will have to continue their fine form. Everything will have to go right for Rathnew and everything wrong for St Vincent's to give the Village the slightest chance.

It makes for a wonderful occasion in Wicklow football and a packed out Joule Park, Aughrim will be just the sort of provincial ground St Vincent's won't like to visit.

Goliath rarely loses in these match ups but Rathnew have prevailed before against top class opponents and would only love to prevail again and prove the doubters wrong.

Bray People