Darby bids to lay ghosts of final misery
KILDARE football sets aside the quest for national success as the cream of the county's club crop engage in battle for senior honours at St Conleth's Park, Newbridge tomorrow (3.30).
The clash of Sarsfields and Carbury is laden with historic overtones. It's an intriguing pairing as the clubs prepare to meet in a senior final for the first time since 1952.
Carbury, managed by former Offaly All-Ireland winner Stephen Darby, have the most recent experience of the glamour day, as they were losing finalists to Athy last year.
Their bounce-back to the decider again is testimony to the hunger within the club to win the Dermot Bourke Cup for the first time since 1985.
John Crofton, who has played for and managed Kildare, is at the helm of a Sarsfields team which bids for a first senior county title in seven years.
The match also has some family intrigue, as former Kildare All Star goalkeeper Ollie Crinnigan is a Carbury selector, while his son Noel is a coach at Sarsfields.
Adding spice to the encounter is the presence of county stars on each side: brothers Morgan and Eoghan O'Flaherty with Carbury, and Gary White and Alan Smith for Sarsfields.
'The Sash' would love to have Dermot Earley available but that's not possible due to his ongoing knee problems, so how does the Newbridge side's manager view his team's chances?
Crofton's message to his players is that the game can only be taken on its own merits. Sarsfields already have the league title and Aldridge Cup in the trophy cabinet, but he wants his men to look no further than tomorrow and giving their all for the cause.
"It's going to be very difficult. Carbury are appearing in their second county final in succession. Unfortunately for them, last year was a losing one but that's probably unfortunate for us because they have that experience to call on for this match.
"They now have another opportunity, and a lot of times teams in this situation have grasped that opportunity. You'd have to say it's a big benefit for them having played in the final last year, and that's apart from their performances.
"They were big winners early on against Leixlip and Confey, and they scored 10 points either side of half-time against the reigning champions Athy in the semi-final.
"If they can maintain that kind of form for long periods of the match, it would be very hard for us to resist."
Sarsfields had a challenge from the very start of the summer as they lost their opening match to Naas but since then, they've buckled down and charted an unerring course to the final.
Captained by former Kildare star Padraig Brennan, who seeks his fourth winner's medal from eight county finals -- nine if the 2005 replay against St Laurence's is counted -- Sarsfields have a nice blend of youth and experience and are slight favourites.
This amuses Crofton. "For the semi-finals we were third favourites. We're playing Carbury, who beat Athy, the champions," he explains.
"Last year Athy won the title fairly handily and went on to give (eventual winners) Garrycastle a good match in the Leinster semi-final."
Darby, meanwhile, is grateful that Carbury have once again reached the decider and given themselves a chance of atonement.
"We would hope experience of last year will be of great benefit to the team, and that it will act as the catalyst to go one better this time," says the manager.
"Last year none of the players had ever been in a county final before. The older ones would have barely remembered the last time Carbury were in a final back in 1985.
"We really hope that going through the experience of playing the game and losing it last year will stand the team in good stead, and that the old adage that you have to lose one to win one will be true for us."
The Offaly native and his players are damping down supporters' expectations, despite that impressive semi-final win over Athy.
"Everyone had to admit that Athy were very worthy champions last year and they acquitted themselves well in Leinster subsequently," he recalls.
"It was a great scalp for us to beat Athy, but we didn't look for revenge against Athy.
"They were just the next hurdle we had to get over.
"We did that and we have one more hurdle to jump before we can get to the promised land.
"Carbury being a country club, everybody rows in behind you. There is great interest among the supporters but I'd say it's a more low-key build up this time.
"The players are more focused and they know what has to be done. The newness of the experience is gone from them now and we are can concentrate on preparing mentally for the final," Darby reveals.
All is in place for a passionate and ultra-competitive contest. It may not be pretty, but this game looks certain to be pretty competitive.
Carbury's second successive final appearance is a boost for Darby's team but Sarsfields were there in 2010, when they lost narrowly to Moorefield.
It's an old-fashioned cliche, but the team which wants it more will get the decisive edge -- the respective managers can only hope that their players perform to their full potential.