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Flipped season opens door for the 'Mun

Kickhams have kept falling short, but Dub star fatigue no longer an excuse as Na Fianna loom


Ballymun Kickhams’ David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following their Dublin SFC1 Group 1 Round 3 win against Thomas Davis at Parnell Park

Ballymun Kickhams’ David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following their Dublin SFC1 Group 1 Round 3 win against Thomas Davis at Parnell Park

Ballymun Kickhams’ David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following their Dublin SFC1 Group 1 Round 3 win against Thomas Davis at Parnell Park

It was one of those results that reverberated from Donnycarney across the northside as far as Mobhi Road, then up to the 'Autobahn' and beyond.

Eleven months ago, Ballymun Kickhams were torpedoed out of the Dublin senior football championship before it had even reached the knockout stages.

They didn't die with their boots on either, eclipsed down the home straight by Na Fianna to lose by 0-13 to 0-8.

"It was a shock to everybody," says Anto McCaul, the 1980s Dublin footballer and a man who is Kickhams to the core. But then he quickly clarifies: "It wasn't a shock to me, because I knew well with the guys coming back from Dublin that we'd be in trouble."

Therein lies the kernel of Ballymun's dilemma. During a period of unprecedented success, no club has contributed more to the decade of the Dubs.

But the problem with all those September parades is that Ballymun, more than any of their rivals, were then left to pick up the pieces.

They would rush back into a Dublin SFC campaign that had been parked for maybe five months to facilitate the trip for three, the roar for four or the drive for five ... and duly struggled to reintegrate their sometimes worn-out marquee men back into the collective.

Thus, this season like no other should provide the perfect template for Ballymun to showcase their best at the business end of the championship.

Sated by Sam

For once, James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, Dean Rock and John Small, not to mention his brother Paddy and 'keeper Evan Comerford, aren't returning from another protracted Dublin campaign, sated by Sam but with how much more to give? They've had many long, uninterrupted weeks of preparing and playing with their clubmates.

Dublin All-Ireland winner (1983) John Caffrey, who has played and managed Na Fianna and whose son Seán is part of their current squad, is fearful now for that very reason.

"Ballymun have really suffered not having their county players under the old championship regime, when they came back after an All-Ireland tired, knackered, partied out," Caffrey reflects. "Whereas this year they should be all very fresh."

Tomorrow in Parnell Park will put that theory to the test, with a semi-final place on the line. After last year's reversal, and given the more favourable circumstances, a repeat failure against deadly local rivals would leave some to ask if Kickhams are a team destined to be tagged as recidivist under-achievers.

Back in 2012, when Ballymun won their first county title for 27 years, there was a presumption that we were witnessing the dawn of an era.

It's possible that their All-Ireland heartbreak the following March, coming after the blitzkrieg establishment of an early eight-point lead against St Brigid's of Roscommon, left deeper scars than imaginable at the time.

Even more so when taken in tandem with the gut-wrenching anti-climax of their Dublin title defence: they were eventually pipped at the post by St Vincent's in a draining county final replay.

But Ballymun have only reached one Dublin decider since 2013 - again losing to Vincent's in 2017 - and the last two seasons have ended on the wrong end of a quarter-final smash-and-grab by St Jude's and then that tame exit to Na Fianna in a winner-takes-all round-robin finale.

McCaul, whose son Andrew is on the current squad, believes the flipped GAA season has been a godsend.

"They're completely committed just to Ballymun presently," he says. "It was a tall ask for six guys to come back after putting in such a gruelling nine months with Dublin, to come and replicate it with club football. And then playing against teams who don't have any (county players), or have one or two ... they tend to up their game, out to make their name against recognised stars."

It's worth reiterating just how reliant Dublin have been on Ballymun. If you discount the two drawn deciders, McCarthy has started all seven victorious All-Irelands, McMahon has started five (appearing off the bench in the other two), Rock can count five starts and one influential cameo (in 2013) while the elder Small has started the last four, having appeared as a sub in 2015.

In truth, Ballymun's round-robin group this summer didn't look particularly taxing on paper but their freshness and fluency were reflected in three towering tallies: 3-18 against Skerries, 3-26 against Lusk and 3-15 against last year's beaten county finalists, Thomas Davis.

By contrast, Na Fianna had to recover from an opening defeat to St Jude's but they had plenty to spare against Lucan and Ballinteer St John's.

But for Jim Gavin's Dublin departure, Dessie Farrell would still be at the helm. His successor, Lar Norton, hasn't been helped by a succession of injuries. If Dublin star Eoin Murchan doesn't make it, their chances will be further eroded.

All those niggles help to explain Caffrey's summation that "we're hoping rather than confident."

That, and maybe the spectre of a local rival no longer handicapped, perversely, by the weight of too many Celtic Crosses.

ODDS: Ballymun 3/10 Draw 8/1 Na Fianna 5/2

VERDICT: Ballymun