THEY say a good start is half the battle, but Paddy Carr reckons it could actually win the war for Ballymun Kickhams this weekend.
The last manager to lead a Dublin club to the AIB All-Ireland SFC summit puts it another way: the first 10 minutes of Saturday's semi-final in Thurles will be "critical" for Ballymun because they will find it "very difficult to come from behind" against such accomplished score-getters as Dr Crokes.
Almost four years have passed since Carr managed Kilmacud Crokes to a St Patrick's Day victory parade over Crossmaglen Rangers. That signified back-to-back glory for the capital following the coronation of St Vincent's 12 months earlier.
And yet, the record of Leinster champions at the business end of this marathon club campaign has been distinctly patchy in recent decades. Since Baltinglass in 1990, there have been just three All-Ireland champions from the eastern province, all from Dublin: namely Kilmacud in '95 and '09, and the Vins in '08.
Now Ballymun aim to join that elite company. They have already achieved two notable landmarks before Christmas: a first Dublin title in 27 years and then a maiden Leinster success.
But here's the thing: the bar just keeps on rising. "One of the biggest challenges is actually understanding that at this stage, the semi-final, it's even a step-up in pace," notes Carr, who ended his four-year Kilmacud reign in October 2011 but remains an avid watcher of the provincial and All-Ireland club scene.
Ballymun now face the star-studded men of Dr Crokes – Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Kieran O'Leary et al – who have contested three consecutive Munster finals, winning the last two. Get over that and, chances are, the hat-trick chasing holders from Crossmaglen will be lying in Croker wait.
On paper it looks a long shot: Boylesports have priced Ballymun as 2/1 underdogs to prevail against Crokes and 5/1 third-favourites to land the Andy Merrigan Cup.
Carr, though, is less convinced about Saturday's outcome in Semple Stadium. While acknowledging that it's virgin territory for Ballymun, he has been won over not just by their success to date but also by the approach of their manager, Paul Curran.
"If ever a game is dependant on getting a good start, this particular game is. I have seen a lot of Dr Crokes this year already – I went down to see them in Cork (blitzing Castlehaven in the Munster final) and I saw them just getting over Kilmurry-Ibrickane ... I have to say I've been very impressed," he enthuses.
"But one of the big plusses for Ballymun is their work-rate. Paul and his management team have done exceptionally well in terms of getting a super work ethic on the field, and they really are playing for each other. Certainly, the way to beat Dr Crokes is to sustain that huge tempo."
Reflecting on Ballymun's impressive fitness levels, he adds: "They have obviously understood the significance of that intensity, and I've no doubt that Dr Crokes will not have met a team that have been able to do that.
"That is a huge advantage Ballymun have – the value of the Dublin championship. You just don't win the Dublin championship unless you've got that absolutely spot-on in terms of the necessary level of work-rate."
More ominously, Carr highlights the myriad threats posed by Dr Crokes. And it goes beyond the most obvious and ever-present danger known to all as 'the Gooch'.
In attack, he lauds both their team-work and "comfort level" on the ball. Their team leaders also happen to have "vast experience of playing the game at the highest level" – the type of experience that can be crucial in closing out a game. Hence the importance of a flying start for Ballymun – a recurring feature of their pre-Christmas glory run.
"Ballymun really need to back themselves on this one, because I've no doubt that they have the ability and they obviously have the mindset now," says Carr.
"They will have to dictate the pace from very early. If, at any stage, they get into the comfort zone, Dr Crokes have the players to punish them and punish them hard."
He can see both attacks making hay. "I absolutely believe that it will come down to a percentage game with regard to what full-forward line gets most of the ball," the former Louth boss surmises.
"It's going to be an intriguing game, because I would rate both sets of forwards potentially ahead of the defence that they're facing. I really do think if early ball is played into Dean Rock and Ted Furman ... I think the Dr Crokes full-back line is actually suspect, I really do, and they won't have been tested at this level before."
"All the omens are saying Dr Crokes – that this is their year and they are the team to test Crossmaglen. But the fact that Ballymun are unknown outside of Dublin, until recently, is to their advantage. And I actually think, if they get their A-game there, that they could sneak it. But they need to be ahead in the last 10 minutes, and if they do that I'd fancy them."