THERE is a temptation to stereotype tomorrow’s All-Ireland club football showpiece as yet another David versus Goliath encounter.
There’s only one slight problem with that synopsis: St Brigid’s have already wiped the eye of one club superpower in the guise of Nemo Rangers, at the semi-final stage, so can they really be classified as the biblical no-hoper coming to Croker with only a sling and a prayer against the Goliaths of south Armagh?
“I would have confidence in them,” declares former Roscommon boss Donie Shine Snr, “because they should have beaten Nemo by more (than two points).
And if Nemo had won, they would be favourites.” The father and namesake of Roscommon’s premier marksman, Shine knows a thing or three about this competition.
Sadly, for him, the memories are mired in All-Ireland final heartache: he played on the Clann na nGael team that lost its inaugural final, in 1983, and then managed the south Roscommon club to four more All-Ireland appearances in consecutive years, between 1987 and ’90.
Their consistency in bouncing back each year was remarkable (Clann won six straight Connacht titles in this period), even more so given the painful end to each preceding All-Ireland campaign.
Still, the big one kept eluding them – as happened Roscommon Gaels when steamrolled by St Vincent’s of Dublin in the 1976 decider. Now St Brigid’s become the latest Roscommon challengers for this elusive crown.
To claim the Andy Merrigan Cup they must seize the day, not freeze on it, because St Patrick’s Day trips down to Dublin are second nature to Crossmaglen.
The team itself may have changed over the years, with only a sprinkling of veteran survivors from the first great Cross’ team of the late nineties.
Yet these big occasions are surely ingrained in the DNA of even the young wannabes who have made the grade since the last of their four All-Ireland triumphs, four years ago.
That year Cross’ left it typically late to force final deadlock with Dr Crokes before prevailing in the replay.
At the semi-final stage, intriguingly, they had met St Brigid’s who kept within striking range for the full hour only to lose 1-11 to 0-11.
Brigid’s believe they’re a stronger outfit now, a view seemingly endorsed by Donie Shine whose son-in-law, Brendan O’Brien, is part of the Kiltoom panel.
Shine outlines several reasons why they have a “great chance” of upsetting the 1/2 favourites. The likes of Peter Domican and Cathal McHugh are “used to winning All-Irelands” be it for the Roscommon minors (2006) or at U16 vocational schools level with Athlone CC.
“The younger guys are playing exceptionally well; it depends on how they will bear up to the day,” he adds.
Shine also praises the midfield form of county star Karol Mannion and Garvan Dolan; the scoring prowess of Senan Kilbride at full-forward; while, as for the team’s most famous name, he declares: “Frankie Dolan is probably the best passer in the country – still.”
The veteran coach has been impressed by Brigid’s ability to “get stronger” in the closing stages: this was reflected most spectacularly in their escape to extra-time victory over Killererin in the Connacht final, but also against Nemo when they hit the last three points to win by two.
Mind you, when it comes to comebacks, few can match Crossmaglen who were six down and in dire straits against Kilmacud before launching a stirring second-half charge, aided by a gifted goal and a scoring bench.
Both finalists were also assisted by the red card travails of their semi-final opponents, underlining the importance of keeping discipline tomorrow.
Brigid’s have a real fighting chance but you can’t ignore the All-Ireland pedigree and know-how of Oisín McConville, Paul Hearty, the Kernans et al.
Cross’ are marginal favourites, but deserving ones too.
ODDS: Crossmaglen 1/2, Draw 15/2, St Brigid’s 2/1