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Happy ending for Magee

AUGUST 11, 2010 was the day Darren Magee suffered a leg break which could, quite accurately (and probably only), be described as horrific in an AFL Division 1 match for Kilmacud Crokes against Fingal Ravens but even at that painful moment, the full destructive scope of the injury had yet to reveal itself.

Complication after complication ensued, ruling Magee out for ever longer and many in the Stillorgan club wondered whether they would get their once indomitable midfielder back to optimum health at all.

Battles

"I've had my own personal battles over the last couple of years, with breaking the leg and dislocating it and all the complications," recalls Magee, now just three days short of another Evening Herald Dublin SFC final, a Bank Holiday Monday night (7.45) showdown with Ballymun Kickhams.

"It's just great to be back out there. It's where I wanted to be for the last couple of years, back with the lads and battling with them.

"I rely on the lads as much as they rely on me and that's what it's all about -- the team. If you take me or anyone out of the team, it doesn't matter. The lads will push on and we're not reliant on any one person. That's what makes the winning of a championship."

They won it without him in 2010 and went all the way through Leinster before Crossmaglen Rangers caught an understrength Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-final, a hurdle shy of their 2009 zenith, proving Magee's theory about the strength of the club's playing reserves.

With such a relatively young and yet still experienced and successful group of players entering their prime, the scope to dominate the ultra-competitive Dublin club scene was obvious. However, they were stifled last year, suffering relegation from Division 1 of the AFL and slumping out of the championship at the unusually early juncture of the fourth round to St Brigid's.

"In '09, we won all the trophies around us and we probably lost focus for the league," Magee now admits. "Other teams, you see all the top teams in Dublin making the semi-finals of the Championship... they tend to be at the bottom end of the league. That just shows you how influential the lads who go off into the inter-county scene are. It's disruptive. But in saying that, it was a good chance to refocus and it was a kick in the rear end that we needed."

Already, they have rediscovered their penchant for unlikely comebacks, launching a successful assault on Ballyboden's eight-point lead in the quarter-finals and even more impressively, turning a similarly bleak deficit against St Brigid's in last Sunday's pulsating semi-final into a six-point victory.

"Every comeback is a sweet one but that was especially sweet," Magee reflects. "The battles that we've had with Brigid's over the last three years have been immense. We were something similar to them last year, when they were coming from Division 2.

"It was a shock coming back to playing Division 1 teams from Division 2. It's a different tempo. The replay against Ballyboden stood to us. A Wednesday on good heavy ground ... it wasn't the best of surfaces."

There have been nutritional benefits to life in Division 2, though. Re-acquiring that winning feeling, even in the absence of so many of their inter-county number helped. It also forced them to audition a few of the club's budding youngsters and one, in particular, has made a definite impression; Dublin minor of last year and under-21 All-Ireland winner of this year, Paul Mannion.

"That stood to him earlier in the year, playing in Division 2," Magee reckons. "You're getting hard hits and it's a different sort of football to what he's used to, I suppose.

"The young lads, when they start playing senior at that age, they can be a little bit naive. Whereas playing in Division 2, you're getting harder hits and being pushed out onto your weaker side and Paul has learned as he's gone on. There are a lot of All-Ireland winners around him and a lot of fellas who have played for Dublin and have that experience. He's a man who keeps his head on his shoulders as well, which is a great thing for a young fella."

Reign

Similarly, a change of management has failed to dilute their successful mixture.

The early part of Hugh Kenny's reign has already secured promotion back to the top-flight and should they win on Monday evening, will emulate St Brigid's 2011 feat of winning a Dublin Championship title from Division 2.

"Hugh is after coming in there and he's a different voice," Magee notes. "It's great to be able to have a transition without dropping our standards.

"The players are there and every year, there are two or three lads coming in. You had the likes of Stephen Williams coming in the last day. That's another fella and it all adds up. The standard is high and we set the bar high for ourselves. We don't expect to win," he concludes, "but we know we can with hard work."


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