Ballymun will be tough test but Crokes have talent to pull through

Paul Brennan

BALLYMUN Kickhams wear a red and green strip. That in itself should serve as a warning to Dr Crokes wshen they face the Dublin and Leinster club championship in Thurles on Saturday.

The last time this Dr Crokes team were beaten in a championship match was almost a year ago to the day. That was against Crossmaglen Rangers in the corresponding fixtures to this Saturday's: the All-Ireland club senior football championship semi-final. Crossmaglen don't wear red and green, but Kilmurry-Ibrickane do.

Kilmurry-Ibrickane are the reiging Clare county champions and they are the team that came closest in the last 12 months to beating Dr Crokes in championship football. Indeed, on a windy, heavy day on the Atlantic coast in west Clare in late November they probably should have. The Clare club wouldn't be regarded as the most polished football team, and they house few household names. But they extended Dr Crokes just the right amount of respect and then went about extending every discourtesy up in Quilty when they met in the Munster quarter-final.

Kilmurry-Ibrickane didn't have it all their own way, mind, and a little way into the second half they looked a beaten docket. But then they plucked a ball or two out of midfield and built a little momentum. And they built and the scored. And built and scored. And eventually they were within a fingernail of catching and passing and dumping Crokes out of the provincial championship.

Crokes survived, of course, and were never knocked off their stride against Clonmel Commercials or Castlehaven or Tir Conall Gaels in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

So what's all this to do with Ballymun Kickhams and Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final. Well, apart from the red and green strip, there is a sense that the Dublin champions might be more like the Clare county champions than Dr Crokes might like.

Unlike Crokes (and indeed Kilmurry-Ibrickane) Ballymun are complete novices to this level of competition. Last year the club won only its third county title, and first since 1985, and Saturday will be the first time they will have competed outside of the Leinster championship. But there is something of a never-say-die attitude about the Dublin club that suggests they could make life very difficult for Crokes. In James McCarthy, Phily McMahon, Alan Hubbard and Dean Rock they have footballers of considerable talent, but outside of that they had a collective spirit that makes them a more formidable team than their individual parts should allow.

In the Dublin county final they battled manfully to overcome a far more individually talented Kilmacud Crokes side, and in their Leinster final against Portlaoise they also grafted above and beyond the call of duty to put away a more experienced side. It's those qualities that will make them no pushovers against Dr Crokes.

Of course, everything that has just been written must be prefaced by the fact that this Ballymun team will not have encountered an opponent quite like this Dr Crokes team. The three-times county champions have captured county and provincial titles with such ease - the Kilmurry-Ibrickane game aside - that the only possible negative going into Saturday's contest is that they haven't really been fully tested in almost 12 months.

Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Johnny Buckley and Kieran O'Leary remain the players that Ballymun will be most aware of, but the team is teeming with talent and players who have experienced the highs and lows of club football. Fionn Fitzgerald, Shane Myers, Luke Quinn (pictured), Ambrose O'Donovan, Brian Looney and Daithi Casey are all wonderfully talented club players who won't be in the least it daunted by playing in an All-Ireland semi-final.

Crokes have a clean bill of health and have been training away quietly since Christmas in preparation for this game.

They have released a few players to Kerry for McGrath Cup games in January but now the wagons have been circled and the job in hand is now central to their plans.

Ballymun should present a sterner test than Castlehaven did in the Munster final. Whether a young Kickhams team have enough to trump all of Crokes aces will be another day's work. On this occasion we're not sure they will.

Verdict: Dr Crokes