Gaeltacht toughness to count

IN their quieter moments, before they engage each other in this afternoon's AIB All-Ireland club football final (3.40pm), An Ghaeltacht and Caltra will have reflected on their good fortune to be in Croke Park for one of the biggest days in the GAA calendar.

The Ghaeltacht manager Fergal Ó Sé, who didn't get his wish for a starting place, remembers in particular a dramatic finish to the Kerry SFC semi-final against Mid-Kerry.

"We were two points clear, in the last minute and I watched as a fisted ball just skimmed around the post. We were that close to going out of the championship,'' he recalled.

In the replayed final with Laune Rangers again in the last minute and again while holding a two points advantage Pa Sullivan crashed a ball off the upright.

"It just as easily could have been a goal. Definitely, we had the rub of the green!,'' the Gaeltacht man agrees.

Selector Gabriel Naughton also concedes that Caltra could have been 'caught quite easily' on a number of occasions in both the county and provincial competitions.

"In the Galway semi-final, we were very lucky to get a draw against Mountbellew. They should have killed us off in the second half.

"Then, in the first round of the Connacht championship, St Mary's from Leitrim had us on the rack for a lot of the second half. We just hung on to win by a point. Our closest call in terms of losing came when we played Curry from Sligo in the final. They had a lot of possession and dominated general play in the second half. It was very much a case of us hanging in and clawing out a one-point win.

"But, no matter how you look at it, to win the Galway championship, then to progress to win Connacht and to make it to an All-Ireland final, is remarkable in itself, irrespective of how difficult the path has been.''

The final is only the fifth in the 33 years history of the championship between Munster and Connacht opposition and Nemo Rangers were involved in the previous four.

What's notable about Gaeltacht's appearance is the fact that only twelve years ago they were playing in the novice grade. And in Caltra's case, they had only contested one senior final prior to last year (when they hammered Killererin) and that was in 1975.

Ó Sé stresses the importance of a good start for the Kerry champions.

"It's something we will have to watch. We let St Brigid's start well the last day. We know that won't be good enough against Caltra. We'll have to do the business from the word go.

"Caltra are a mighty outfit. They're young and athletic and they don't get themselves into situations where they need to use their physical strength. They like to keep it wide and open, and take on players.''

While Gaeltacht's semi-final win was heavily influenced by the form of their inter-county players, Ó Sé is confident that the entire team has developed during the course of the season

"We're lucky that a lot of players have grown in stature through the campaign and have become better players,'' he explains.

"As a result of that, we have become successful of a club. Any of the clubs that have been successful haven't won by depending on one or two players.''

Naughton points out that the county players in the Caltra set-up readily acknowledge where the strength of their team lies.

"They would be the first to point out that a lot of games were won because we had a significant number of players playing well on the day. And, that will never be more important than in the final. No disrespect to the teams we have met, but Gaeltacht will be by far the most difficult.''

It's very difficult to separate the two teams. On the one hand, Gaeltacht could have the upper hand at midfield, through Darragh Ó Sé and brother Tomás behind him, but Caltra's inside forwards, spearheaded by the multi-talented Michéal Meehan, may pose a bigger threat.

I expect it to be very close but, if one factor is to prove crucial, it may very well be the Kerry side's physical strength.

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