Ballymun hoping to banish pain of '82 final defeat
THE boys of '82 are in their 50s now, but the memories of the last Leinster SFC final clash between Portlaoise and Ballymun Kickhams have been stirred by tomorrow's 'rematch' at Mullingar.
Yes, 30 years have elapsed since November 28, 1982 when a brash young Ballymun side met Portlaoise in the provincial final played in Carlow.
At that stage the Laois champions had plenty of Leinster final experience. They had triumphed in 1972 and '77, and were beaten finalists to Raheens of Kildare in 1981.
Ballymun were an emerging force in Dublin football and had lost the county final to St Vincent's in 1981.
The following year, 'the Mun' made no mistake and captured the club's first Dublin SFC title en route to a place in the Leinster final. Former Laois and Dublin stars Colm Browne and Dermot Deasy played in that '82 decider and Deasy recalls that Portlaoise had already served notice of their quality.
"We had played them in a challenge match six months before and I was very impressed with them that day.
"They beat us well and it was a cracking game, but this (Leinster final) wasn't as good," he recalls.
Perhaps Deasy's view was coloured by the result – a 1-8 to 0-7 victory for Portlaoise – because the Irish Independent report said the contest was "one of the finest games seen in the competition in recent times."
"It was a long time ago. You tend to forget games you lost," Deasy says.
Browne, player-manager of Portlaoise that season (Liam Scully was the captain), comments: "I remember very little about the match, but I remember Ballymun as having been a top-class team.
"They were replete with top class footballers, some of them were Dublin players at the time. We were put to the pin of our collar to beat them."
The two clubs each fielded a contingent of county players. Portlaoise had Browne, Tom Prendergast, Eamonn Whelan, Billy Bohane and dual player Pat Critchley in their squad, while Ballymun's Dublin talent included Barney Rock, Deasy, Gerry Hargan, John Kearns, Anto McCaul and Declan Sheehan.
A strong wind favoured Portlaoise in the first half, but they turned at half-time leading only 0-3 to 0-2. Ballymun felt they had done well and were confident as the ball was thrown in by Seamus Aldridge for the second half.
Within minutes, however, their plans were scuppered. Portlaoise scored a quickfire 1-1, with Joe Keenan getting the golden goal which gave Portlaoise a huge boost as they faced a hard shift against the wind.
Says Deasy: "Seamus Aldridge was the ref. He wasn't good – not that he was the winning or losing of the match... Colm Eustace, our centre-back, was penalised for over-carrying and it didn't look a free, but they got a point. They played with the breeze. We held them tight. It was close enough at half-time and we thought we could turn it around.
"Our mentors took Gary Talbot off and that was a bad move. They should have left him on. He was doing okay. They were cleverer and cuter than us.
"They pulled a lot of players back and left Tom Prendergast up front. They got a five-point lead and we never pegged them back."
Browne reckons that performance highlighted the benefits of hard-earned experience gained by Portlaoise since making their Leinster club breakthrough 10 years previously.
"We had a belief in ourselves at club level that we could stand toe-to-toe with any team. We had won two Leinster titles at that stage, and were coming to our peak.
"We had played against teams from all around the country and we felt we could stand up to any of them," he says.
The club championship in those years did not command as much publicity as it does now, but Browne and the players of his generation never underestimated the competition.
"It mightn't have had as much publicity, but it was every bit as important then as it is now to the players. We were very conscious of trying to do well, as I'm sure Ballymun were. The club championship is a great competition. You don't get too many chances to win it – unless you're Crossmaglen. It's probably the most difficult of all to win," he explains.
That campaign was the only one in which Portlaoise went all the way, beating St Finbarr's of Cork in the semi-final and Roscommon's Clann na nGael in the decider.
"There can only be one winner," says Browne. "The closer you get, the more conscious you are of the fact that you might never get this chance again. We haven't been back to the top table since, which just shows how hard it is.
"We have the best record in Leinster (seven provincial titles), but we haven't been back to the summit since."
Deasy acknowledges that the 2012 Portlaoise side must be favourites, but has hopes that Ballymun can go one better than the team of his generation.
"Portlaoise have won a number of Leinsters. They're experienced. They know what it's about. We're entering into the unknown. I'd have to put them as favourites, that's for sure," he adds.