LIAM HOGAN has admitted it will be a huge ask for Ballyboden St Enda's to finally scale the Leinster club hurling summit in the continuing absence of Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney.
'Boden survived the double-whammy loss of their two cruciate victims as they cruised to a fifth consecutive Dublin SHC crown, but they were almost brought crashing back to earth during last Sunday's provincial club opener against Clonkill in Mullingar.
Eventually they emerged on the right end of a fraught two-point quarter-final, but afterwards their manager conceded that the game "showed us how much we miss Conal Keaney and Stephen Hiney".
And it doesn't promise to get any easier next Sunday, when Ballyboden host Hogan's native Coolderry at Parnell Park with a Leinster final place at stake.
At least they've had plenty of preparation adjusting to life without these two stellar servants -- Hiney sustained his season-ending knee injury last March, while Keaney suffered a similar fate when involved in a motorcycle accident last July.
But as Hogan pointed out: "Conal Keaney is, without doubt, the best forward in Dublin hurling. Stephen Hiney is, without doubt, the best back in Dublin hurling. And without those two men ... "I think we really missed them (against Clonkill), and we'll probably miss them even more the next day because Coolderry have a superb back line and a superb forward line.
"They have six forwards who are up to county senior standard, so I think we're going to have our hands full the next day."
As for the prospect of facing his home club, the Offaly native declared: "I gave 20-odd years of the best years of my life to Coolderry hurling, and I'm still supporting them -- I was down at the county final this year roaring them on as if I'd never left the place.
"But I've also spent 15-odd years on the Firhouse Road, and a lot of these lads I've trained since they were under 15. So there's no question as to where my loyalties lie next Sunday.
"The question is do I know enough about Coolderry to be able to guide Ballyboden over the finishing line? Ken Hogan and David Dooley and Mick Murray on the other side know enough about Ballyboden -- they've been at all of our games, and I'm sure that they'll have their homework done on us."
Meanwhile, defender Malachy Travers is hoping this could finally be Ballyboden's time to conquer Leinster at the fifth time of asking.
"We felt very hard done by last year against O'Loughlin Gaels -- and they won Leinster," the Wexford stalwart pointed out.
"We've come up against good teams, but we probably haven't really done ourselves justice outside of Dublin. Hopefully (the Clonkill) match will stand us in good stead because it was such a battle, and we haven't had that all year."
As for life without Keaney and Hiney, Travers admitted: "They're huge losses, dont get me wrong, but everybody seems to have stepped up their own game a little bit and hopefully that will continue."