The waiting is nearly over and the final pieces of the jigsaw are now in place as St Brigid’s ready themselves for a titanic All-Ireland Club Football Final showdown with Dublin and Leinster club champions Ballymun Kickhams on St Patrick’s Day.
Neighbours Clann Na Gael fell at the final hurdle no less than five times while The Saints themselves have tasted defeat against Crossmaglen in the decider in 2010. Yet confidence is high that the Kiltoom men can set the record straight and make it seventh time lucky and become the first Roscommon club to get their hands on the Andy Merrigan Cup at about 5pm on Sunday evening.
There is no doubt that Kevin McStay’s side have shown remarkable consistency and resilience over the past six years. In 2007 they lost the semi-final by three points to Crossmaglen. 2010 saw them lose out by the same margin to the same opposition in the final. Last year had to eat humble pie after neighbours Garrycastle out-staged them in Pearse Park, Longford in the semi-final.
This year under new management they have come back as hungry and determined as ever. They had to battle to retain their county crown against a stubborn Padraig Pearses before claiming their third provincial title in a row. Yet their finest hour so far came when they downed the mighty Crossmaglen in the semi-final to book their ticket to Sunday’s decider.
Crossmaglen was a monumental scalp to take but all involved will be keenly aware that there were no medals presented yet and beating the best club team of all time will count for little if they don’t deliver again on St Patrick’s Day.
Ballymun are a formidable opposition. Dublin champions always deserve enormous respect. All the more so when they have only been beaten once in the past two years as Kickhams have - their last defeat coming in the 2011 county semi-final.
Mullingar Shamrocks were criticised for the hammering they succumbed to in the opening round of the provincial championship but Ballymun have brushed all comers aside with relative ease en route to being crowned Leinster club champions. They also proved too hot to handle for a fancied Dr Crokes side in their semi-final.
Backboned by players of the calibre of Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Davy Byrne, Ted Furman, and Dean Rock the Metropolitans have few weaknesses in their armour.
McStay has made two changes to his starting 15 from the team that started the semi-final. Corner back John Murray comes in for wing back Garvan Dolan while Damien Kellegher will line out at wing forward in place of midfielder Ger Aherne.
Karol Mannion reverts to midfield from centre forward with Richie Blaine taking over on the 40. Gearoid Cunniffe lines out at corner back which is not his natural position but the versatile joint captain can be relied on to give his usual wholehearted display.
Ballymun’s physicality and superb mobility will make them a tough nut to crack and the south Roscommon men will have to play to their full potential if they are to write their names into the history books.
Kickhams play a defensive style and it is likely to be a low-scoring affair. In such circumstances goals will be critical and on that front Brigid’s will have to keep close tabs on Ted Furman who has a knack of finding the net as he showed against Crokes. The Brigid’s full-forward line of Cathal McHugh, Senan Kilbride, and Frankie Dolan are each well capable of raising a green flag if and when the opportunity arises.
St Brigid’s have a clean bill of health ahead of the game. They also boast an exceptionally strong bench with the likes of Mark O’Carroll, Garvan Dolan, Ger Aherne, Conor McHugh, and Eoin Sheehy ready to join the fray if required.
It is rumoured that influential mid-fielder Davy Byrne received a rib injury in a recent challenge game and is rated doubtful. He would be a big loss to the Metropolitans. It will be interesting to see where they deploy Philly McMahon but I suspect that he will be given a man-marking job on Senan Kilbride.
Experience certainly counts when it comes to All-Ireland finals and with 10 of the Brigid’s starting team having featured in the 2010 decider they have a definite edge on that front. A shrewd management team, a strong bench, and unfinished business has me thinking that the Saints can complete the mission they have been working towards for so long now. It would certainly be a fitting reward for a club that has set the standard both on and off the field in these parts over the past decade. Whatever about white smoke in the Vatican there will be plenty of smoking bonfires across south Roscommon if and when McStay’s men deliver on Sunday afternoon. I wish them well.