Charleville's guile can the win day
All Ireland Club IHC Final: Charleville v Oranmore-Maree, Sunday, February 10, Croke Park, 3.15pm
For Charleville, this current championship campaign may be after passing the 12 month mark but next Sunday's All Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Final has been a lot longer in the making that just one year.
This Sunday, at headquarters, Charleville will burst out onto the fabled green grass (grass they already felt back in 2011 as juniors) clear about the task at hand, but that in itself won't be anywhere close to enough to seal what would be a historic and to this point well-deserved win.
Charleville will have to rely on tactics, work ethic, passion, skill and no shortage of luck and while all the latter elements have been shown over and over again this season the latter will always be on the day. The saying goes that you make your own luck and this weekend that statement still stands.
Oranmore-Maree will bring everything they have to this one and will be every bit as passionate and prepared as the boys from the Rebel county but that isn't Charleville's concern - you can only play the game, play it as well as you can on the day and hope, maybe pray, that what you have done in the build-up, what you have done all year, what you have done all your sporting life, is enough to get you through against people who will have sacrificed every bit as much as you to get there.
Charleville have been hugely impressive throughout this campaign with Cork star Darragh Fitzgibbon leading the charge to this momentous day in the club's history. Charleville came in a little under the radar for the 2018 county championship, but after securing the Cork honours they never looked back - now however the opposition in this all or nothing tie will bring something that the Charleville haven't faced up to yet this season - they bring power, and plenty of it.
Charleville are a pacey side with plenty of light, young, skilful players but along with that they also have an abundance of class, young but seasoned players who won't be afraid of what awaits them in the massive stadium and, while the location may intimidate some, the pitch won't as Charleville, and their particular brand of quick, open and running game have been waiting for a pitch as wide and as pure as Croke Park's all their lives.
Charleville have played all the major venues this year, winning their County Final in Croke Park, their Munster crown at the Gaelic Grounds and the All Ireland semi-final win came at Semple - Croke Park would make it a clean sweep for the Avondhu boys.
Likely to be led in the scoring stakes by All-Star Darragh Fitzgibbon Charleville have plenty all over the pitch to suggest they have what it takes to win this Sunday. Captain Danny O'Flynn will be hugely significant to the final result starting at full forward but also likely to be to make a showing in the middle third at some stage.
Jack Doyle and corner-back Darren Butler will also be tested this weekend with neither likely to show anything other than full commitment to the cause. The men from the Limerick border town brought a pace, a passion and a belief that few thought possible after being totally outclassed for a 20 minute first half spell.
Darren Casey and Finbar Cagney, Jack O'Callaghan and Jack Buckley along with Andrew Cagney, provide serious options all over the pitch as coach Ben O'Connor and the Charleville backroom team look to put their best players in their favoured positions - Charleville are not afraid to move players around, but there is little doubting that they have a pretty impressive 1 to 15 setup this season.
Of course, the obvious statement is that this game will be won on the scoreboard, but to be more accurate it may well be won by the side with the least number of wides.
Charleville, after a Munster Final win that saw almost 20 wides recorded, set about righting those particular wrongs for the following tie and credit to all concerned they managed to cut that tally down to below 10 for the last win.
Charleville will need to keep that particular tally below double figures this weekend or they will be under serious pressure - therefore expect few wild efforts from distance, particularly in the opening 20 minutes.
Although this is a one-off, all or nothing clash for Charleville, there will be some reminders for many of those involved of the last visit to Croker (when as a junior side they lost to Ballyragget) - this will bring its own pressure on Charleville the players won't want anyone at the club to go through the same pain again.
All that said, Charleville's players can only do what they can do and if they play to the best of their ability on Sunday and lose then they have nothing fear. If Charleville play like we all know they can then they will likely win - but wanting to perform at 100% and actually doing it are two very different things.
Here's hoping the best hurling side to ever come from the town will get the reward they so richly deserve.