Rivalry renewed as Dublin debutants face Gaeltacht

THE buntings are in abundance in Blanchardstown this week. The home town club, St Brigid's, are heading to Thurles on Sunday for an AIB All-Ireland club SFC semi-final appointment with the mighty Gaeltacht.

The Kerry/Dublin rivalry adds another dimension to what is a remarkable story of two clubs heading into virgin territory. Both have high profile names in their ranks, with the Munster men boasting members of the Ó Sé clan and county skipper Dara Ó Cinnéide, while Brigid's have the talents of Declan Darcy, Peadar Andrews and Fermanagh duo Rory and Raymond Gallagher.

"It was a marvellous achievement for them to win Munster. I understand there are only a thousand people in the area. You have got to admire what they have done,'' Brigid's boss Paddy Clarke admits of his opponents, as if downplaying his own achievements.

Bearing in mind that they won their provincial title on the first Sunday in December (beating the Kildare side Round Towers 3-11 to 1-10), Clarke admits to a concern about maintaining their good form in the New Year.

"It was for a while,'' he explains, "but we realise that it's the same for everyone. At one stage we thought that the players might have felt that the Dublin and Leinster trophies was enough. In fact the gap gave them a chance to get over that.

"But, I'd say if we had moved straight from the Leinster campaign into the All-Ireland semi-final, we might have had that problem.

"The break was good. After any break you have to come down and then build back up again. It will always take a few days to come down.''

Any hint of complacency quickly disappeared after the Christmas break.

"We got a couple of trimmings from Meath and that was a good dose of reality. They beat us well in the first match when we played in January. They gave us a ferocious hiding.

"Then, after a couple of challenges fell through, we played them again two weeks ago and it was the same. They gave us another hiding!''

More encouragingly, they played two other games - against Wicklow and Louth - and fared much better.

In the interim, Clarke brought his side to Thurles for a run out on the famed hurling arena and is pleased that they are playing in Semple Stadium.

"If you can't play there, you can't play anywhere,'' he proclaimed.

And it provides Declan Darcy with another stage to showcase his remarkable talents. Darcy, like his manager, believes that the sense of community within the club is the key to their success to date.

"It's something you have to experience to appreciate. It means an awful lot. We're all very good friends and we have bonded well together.

"It's probably one of the main reasons why we won the Dublin championship and went so well in Leinster,'' he comments.

"There's a great camaraderie within the panel and it was a great bonus for us to go on and win together because a lot of us are going to be friends for a long time.

"It's been hugely important to us, a golden opportunity. And we want to make the most of it as much as we can.''

He too agrees that the side benefited enormously from their Christmas break.

"A lot of the younger lads in particular were on a high after winning in Dublin.

"It was nearly all over and done and dusted with the Leinster championship before anyone really knew it.

"Now, it's like as if we quit altogether and now we are back at it again. We couldn't have kept up the tempo. We needed to take a break.''

His respect for the opposition is partly based on his admiration for their inter-county stars.

He comments that Tomás and Darragh Ó Sé, along with Dara Ó Cinnéide, would be ranked among the nation's top 10 footballers.

"It's going to be a huge task to curb their talented players and also that they are supposedly a rugged and very close-knit team.

"The one good thing is that they will come and play football and we will play football.

"There won't be much negativity."

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