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Kickhams are the kings

THEY'LL have the Halloween to end all Halloweens in Ballymun this week. Dublin Champions - finally - an arduous, at times exasperating, but wholly worthwhile journey finished at last in Parnell Park.

Kilmacud Crokes, the masters of the comeback, felled just short of another mesmeric recovery. A one-point win -- 1-12 to 0-14, the sweetest margin of the lot. A 27-year itch scratched. The 'Mun are back in the big time.

Men like James McCarthy and Dean Rock weren't born the last time the 'Mun were crowned Dublin senior champions. Now, they have a Dublin title to add to their All-Ireland Under-21 and Sigerson medals and, in McCarthy's case, Celtic Cross.

Ditto Philly McMahon, the calmest man in Parnell Park when the deepest of pressure was being applied to his particular zone. Following in a line of distinguished Ballymun full-backs, men such as Gerry Hargan, Dermot Deasy and Paddy Christie, McMahon last night added a county crown to his wide and varied honours list.

On the pitch afterwards, club stalwarts embraced. Christie, Ian Roberston, Val Andrews; soldiers during the lean years, men around whom the club was rebuilt and the coaches who encouraged and developed so many of the new champions.

And in the centre of it all, Paul Curran. His managerial CV now boasting something he accomplished three times as a player with Thomas Davis.

"It tops off an unbelievable year," exhaled Man of the Match Dean Rock afterwards, seven points safely bagged, five of which came from play and all utterly vital.

"At the start of the year, we just wanted to win the Championship, nothing else. And you can see what it means to everyone here."

Tense stuff at the end but cool hands and smart heads prevailed and time dutifully elapsed, just as it looked as though Crokes would burrow their way to a second chance. Again.

Ballymun had seen the template though, the trend set by Ballyboden and St Brigid's and this time, there was to be no let-off for Dublin football's answer to Harry Houdini.

Crokes have scaled a range full of mountains they have contrived to leave climb this year but they fell just short of the summit in front of a huge crowd in Donnycarney last night. It's been an odd season for the 2009 All-Ireland club champions.



Horror

If, for the sake of experimentation, you were to put their quarter-final, semi-final and final second-half performances back-to-back on a highlight reel, Crokes would look like the best club team in Ireland.

A conglomerate of their first halves though, would make for a horror show in three parts and so, it was wholly inevitable the approach Ballymun would take into last night's final: reap an early harvest and then hang on for dear life.

Before the Crokes fightback, there was the 'Mun fight. When McCarthy or Alan Hubbard or Davy Byrne looked up from the middle of the park, vast open swaths of greenery appeared and they popped balls in on top of the Crokes full-back line, coming away with scores more often than not.

Both Rock and Ted Furman might have had early goals, settling instead for points but the tone was set at that end of the park and at the other, Ballymun clogged space and denied Crokes any real wiggle room.

Which was just as well, because in Paul Mannion, Crokes had a forward very much in-form, zestfully winning early ball and eternally capable of sticking the ball over the bar.

And when Ballymun scratched that particular itch in the second half, Pat Burke popped up to kick the first four points after the restart in a remarkably impressive purple patch, another echo of last weekend's epic semi-final victory over Brigid's.

Not, though, before Ballymun had opened a six-point lead. Shane Forde rose highest to fist a speculative Kevin Leahy effort from the wing after 12 minutes to grant the Northsiders the dream start they needed.

And with Dean Rock calibrating his aim and thriving in the space, it was clear that Crokes would require a Trojan second-half effort to mount a successful overhaul. They almost got it.



Crumbled

The gaps were duly plugged and vitally, they put overbearing pressure on the Ballymun kick-out and with Burke running riot and Mark Vaughan coming on to kick three points -- two frees -- a lesser team might have crumbled.

There was, however, too much class and confidence in Ballymun. Jason Whelan finished with three points himself, two from play and all under severe pressure, but it was Rock's 56th-minute score which ultimately won them the match.

Well and good having a finisher as skillful as Rock but Ballymun know exactly how to use him and he popped up on the end of an intricate move to fire over the score which put them four up with four to play.

"At the back of your head, you were remembering that they came back well in the Brigid's game," reflected McMahon calmly afterwards as wild celebrations erupted all around him. "So that threat was always there in the back of the heads. But confidence has been good this year and the experience has increased in every game and even if it didn't look like it, we always felt confident in our heads."

"Your time comes," he added. "Once you have the players and the potential and hard work and effort . . . once you get the right ingredients, you'll peak at the right time and get the right results."


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