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talent pool is key for saints

ALL-IRELAND club finals are the stuff of romantic dreams, laced with a large dollop of cold-headed reality.


(Croke Park, Today 3.45, live TG4)

 The Vinnies to frank their favouritism or the Mitchels to make it a March 17 to remember for Mayo?

St Vincent's have two All-Irelands in the locker, one garnered six years ago ... but they know history or pedigree won't be the decisive factor against Castlebar iconoclasts who have turned the defiance of match odds into an art form.

Rather, it will boil down to the talent, tactical nous, application and character of Tommy Conroy's current crop. If Castlebar threaten another long-odds coup, will their rivals find strength in adversity?

Think of the drawn Dublin final against Ballymun: Five down with normal time almost up. Think of the replay: Five down again, early doors, then a man down late on after Diarmuid Connolly's red. Think of their Leinster opener: Another high-profile sending-off (Ger Brennan) with the game barely started and 14 Marino men left to drag tired limbs past St Loman's, just four days after the aforementioned replay. Each time – usually inspired by Tomás Quinn's prolific exploits and supreme leadership – they prevailed.

By comparison, the subsequent wins over Summerhill, Portlaoise and Ballinderry have appeared 'almost' routine and as various heavyweight rivals departed, their credentials have grown ever stronger.

Today, they no longer need fret over suspensions to marquee men and even their recent injury absentees – skipper Brennan and attacking link man Ruairí Trainor – are reportedly fit and ready for the road. All things being equal, then, can Mitchels stop them? Well, don't discount the prospect in haste. Even the bookies may be growing wary of bequeathing underdog status on the consistently unheralded Mayo champions. They've toppled the holders (St Brigid's) and the then-favourites (Dr Crokes) in their last two matches. They don't possess a galaxy of county stars, but have proven Mayo performers in Tom Cunniffe, Barry Moran and Richie Feeney.

Moreover, the lack of a Quinn or Connolly up front shouldn't deflect from their standout collective qualities: Disciplined tenacity in the tackle, a high-intensity pressing game, an ability to go for the green-flag jugular when opportunity knocks.

Who knows, they might even be inspired by last year's case study of fellow Connacht men against another Dublin standard-bearer, Brigid's recovering from eight down after 10 minutes to eclipse Ballymun in one of the greatest club football deciders.

It's dubious whether Castlebar could survive such a calamitous start, but as Conroy cautioned: "I've been on an All-Ireland club side beaten by a last minute goal down in Tipperary town (against Castleisland in 1985). It's not over until it's over."

In summary, if Vincent's bring their A-game to Croker, you'd suspect their individual ability and unflappability should seal the deal.

As Brian Mullins – Sky Blue icon and the club's adult games director – pointed out when recalling the late 'god father' of Vincent's and Dublin GAA: "The name Kevin Heffernan was synonymous with performance. The youngsters on the panel, we hope they have inherited that. That's my job, that's Tommy Conroy's job, that's the underage mentors' job: To infuse them with that attitude, that mentality, that legacy of Kevin."

What better place to prove it.

ODDS: St Vincent's 8/13, Draw 7/1, Castlebar 7/4

VERDICT: St Vincent's