Carr braced for rocky Rhode test
THEY have each endured seven frustrating weeks, but there will be a major dividend for either Kilmacud Crokes or Rhode following next Sunday's AIB Leinster senior club football final in Portlaoise.
Unlike previous years when provincial winners were left well over two months without a game, the bad weather at the end of last year led to the deferral of three senior finals as well the Crossmaglen Rangers v Neasden Gaels All-Ireland quarter-final.
It means that some teams are getting an extra game in January, which should leave them better prepared for the All-Ireland semi-finals in February.
Kilmacud and Rhode will be followed on Sunday week by the Munster football final (Nemo Rangers v Dr Crokes) and the Leinster hurling final (Oulart-The Ballagh v O'Loughlin Gaels).
The long wait for the provincial finals has been very frustrating, not least for the players, who had to be especially careful not to lose fitness over the Christmas period.
"It's the same for ourselves and Kilmacud so there's no advantage either way. It's not what any of us would have wanted but it's behind us now and everything is focused on next Sunday's game," said Rhode manager Tom Coffey.
He is bidding to lead Rhode to their first Leinster title while his counterpart, Paddy Carr, is attempting to steer Kilmacud to a second crown in three seasons.
"Preparing for a Leinster final in January is unusual but at least we've been able to do some work over the last few weeks," said Carr. "We've got a well adjusted group who get on with things as they arise."
Kilmacud are 4/9 favourites to beat Rhode (5/2), but Carr is extremely wary of the Offaly champions, who have a possible match-winner in their main sniper Niall McNamee. It's a re-run of the 2008 Leinster final, when Rhode led by six points at half-time only to concede two second-half goals and end up losing by three points.
"They'll have the memory of that game as a huge motivation," said Carr, who will be without five inter-county players (Paul Griffin, Darren Magee, Rory O'Carroll, Niall Corkery and Mark Davoren) due to injury and overseas work commitments.
It's a sign of just how strong Kilmacud are that they remain favourites despite being without so many top performers.
"It's all about the group and we're lucky to have a very solid combination. Having said that, it's always disappointing when you don't have a full hand to choose from," added Carr.
Rhode have no major injury worries as they attempt to become the first Offaly club to win the Leinster title since Ferbane in 1986. Beaten finalists in 2006 and '08, Rhode are desperate to make the breakthrough. "Hopefully, we'll have learned something from the Leinster final defeats," said Coffey.
The deferred pre-Christmas games leave St Brigid's (Roscommon) as the only provincial football champions who won't have had a game in January.
In fact, it will have been just a day short of 14 weeks since they won the Connacht final when they play the Munster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final on February 26.
Senior club All-Ireland semi-finals -- Hurling -- Feb 29: Clarinbridge (Galway) v De La Salle (Waterford); Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) v Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) or O'Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny).
Football -- Feb 26: Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) v Rhode (Offaly) or Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin); St Brigid's (Roscommon) v Nemo Rangers (Cork) or Dr Crokes (Kerry).