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Fantastic four flex muscle

THE AIB Leinster club football championship is coming nicely to the boil, with two final places up for grabs.

The newcomers from Ballymun Kickhams and the perennial contenders from Portlaoise are favourites to advance, but could a shock (or two) be on the cards? Let's run the rule over all four semi-finalists.

BALLYMUN KICKHAMS

STATUS: Dublin champions facing a Leinster club semi-final trip to Sarsfields of Newbridge this Sunday (St Conleth's Park, 2.0).

PEDIGREE: Just three Dublin senior titles, winning in 1982 and 1985 before this year's long-awaited breakthrough. Progressive underage set-up now bearing fruit on the senior stage.

RECENT HISTORY: New kids on the provincial block -- this is their first Leinster campaign in 27 years. Laid down early marker with opening demolition of Mullingar Shamrocks.

LAST THREE GAMES: Dublin semi-final: Ballymun 1-16 St Jude's 1-7; Dublin final: Ballymun 1-12 Kilmacud 0-14; Leinster q-final: Ballymun 2-13 Mullingar Shamrocks (Westmeath) 0-7.

MANAGER: Paul Curran, Dublin icon-turned-Herald pundit.

STRENGTHS: Super-fit contenders who move the ball at pace. Ideal preparation in the capital's school of hard knocks (teams that survive Dublin frequently thrive beyond). Ability to hit the ground running in games, as Crokes and Shamrocks learned to their cost. A winning blend of established Sky Blue names (Philly McMahon, James McCarthy), rising stars (All-Ireland U21 winners Dean Rock and Ted Furman), and others with county experience (Alan Hubbard, Davy Byrne, Kevin Leahy).

FEAR FACTOR: Could their run-all-day midfield axis of Davy Byrne and James McCarthy be vulnerable against a more conventional high-fielding partnership? Was the Mullingar cakewalk too easy?

MAIN MAN: Dean Rock.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: 2/5 to beat Sarsfields (60 mins); 5/4 Leinster; 13/2 All-Ireland.

SARSFIELDS

STATUS: Kildare champions hoping to ambush Ballymun on home turf this Sunday (Newbridge, 2.0).

PEDIGREE: The traditional top dogs in Kildare, with 22 senior titles and counting.

RECENT HISTORY: Were developing an unwanted reputation for bridesmaid status, losing three county finals between 2007 and 2010, before ending that losing streak this autumn.

LAST THREE GAMES:

Kildare semi-final: Sarsfields 1-11 St Laurence's 1-9; Kildare final:

Sarsfields 2-11

Carbury 0-11;

Leinster

quarter-final: Sarsfields 1-12 St Patrick's (Louth) 2-6.

MANAGER: Former Kildare boss John Crofton.

STRENGTHS: Have revealed a clinical streak up front, a quality that paved the way to county final victory over a Carbury side that dominated much of the second and third quarters. Key men like Gary White and Alan Smith are bang in form. John Crofton, back in charge of his home club, has brought serious year-one momentum. Home advantage won't hinder their chances either.

FEAR FACTOR: They're getting by without Dermot Earley, but could his fielding prowess, strength and experience be missed as the bar rises? Just two Kildare clubs have ever conquered Leinster. To buck that trend, the Sash will probably have to topple two more fancied rivals in Ballymun and Portlaoise.

MAIN MAN: Alan Smith.

ODDS: 13/5 to beat Ballymun; 13/2 Leinster; 40/1 All-Ireland.

PORTLAOISE

STATUS: Laois champions hotly

fancied to see off Emmet óg of

Longford this

Sunday

(O'Moore Park, 2.0).

PEDIGREE: Undisputed kings of Laois -- with 29 titles, 14 ahead of their nearest rivals, and an incredible 25 amassed since 1964 alone. Provincial heavyweights too, leading the Leinster roll of honour with seven SFC crowns.

RECENT HISTORY: Recently completed Laois six-in-a-row, but can only boast one Leinster title from this current run, in 2009. Twelve months ago lost a semi-final classic after extra-time to St Brigid's.

LAST THREE GAMES: Laois semi-final: Portlaoise 2-17 St Joseph's 0-4; Laois final: Portlaoise 1-13 Arles-Kilcruise 0-9; Leinster q-final: Portlaoise 3-15 St Patrick's (Wicklow) 0-4.

JOINT-MANAGERS: Mick Lillis and Mark Kavanagh.

STRENGTHS: The club that keeps on coming. An amalgam of current and former Laois county players, all in tune with Portlaoise's system and style of play. When in the mood, especially if they get a flying start, they tend to destroy vulnerable opponents -- just ask St Joseph's (19-point victims) or St Patrick's (20-point losers). Ominously, the 'Donegalesque' display of total football against Pat's was arguably their finest performance in years.

FEAR FACTOR: Probably should have won more Leinster titles in recent years. Every so often, the wheels come off in spectacular fashion (St Vincent's of Dublin in November 2007; Kilmurry-Ibrickane of Clare in February 2010). Could complacency by their greatest enemy on Sunday?

MAIN MAN: Conor Boyle.

ODDS: 2/9 to beat Emmet óg; evens Leinster; 13/2 All-Ireland.

EMMET óG KILLOE

STATUS:

Longford underdogs facing the ultimate test in Portlaoise's own backyard this Sunday afternoon (O'Moore Park, 2.0).

PEDIGREE: Fourth on the Longford roll of honour with 10 county titles (behind Longford Slashers (15), Clonguish (13) and Granard St Mary's (11)), half of them annexed before the end of World War One.

RECENT HISTORY: Ended a 17-year barren streak when claiming this year's Longford crown, toppling the holders -- Longford Slashers -- after a replay that went to extra-time.

LAST THREE GAMES: Longford final replay: Emmet óg 0-15 Longford Slashers 0-12 (after extra-time); Leinster first round: Emmet óg 2-7 St Anne's (Wexford) 2-4; Leinster q-final: Emmet óg 2-13 Navan O'Mahonys (Meath) 0-8.

MANAGER: Tommy McCormack.

STRENGTHS: They're young and, by all accounts, fearless -- evidenced by how they conquered Longford the hard way via replays in the semi-final and final. Underdog role has suited them perfectly thus far, judging by their quarter-final blitz of a surprisingly poor Navan O'Mahonys. All-Star nominee Michael Quinn (in his first full year back from playing Aussie Rules with Essendon Football Club) is a key man in defence; ditto Pádraig and Joe McCormack; while county ace Seán McCormack has been the prolific mainstay of their attack.

FEAR FACTOR: No Longford team has ever reached (let alone won) a Leinster senior club final. Portlaoise, away, is by far the biggest challenge yet faced. Having played their last seven championship outings in Pearse Park, how will they fare with this safety blanket removed?

MAIN MAN: Seán McCormack.

ODDS: 9/2 to beat Portlaoise; 14/1 Leinster; 80/1 All-Ireland.


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