Ballyboden/St. Enda’s Vs St. Oliver Plunkett’s ER : Preview

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The outdated senior football championship format has left us with just a single really mouth-watering tie for the first round and this is it. Not alone does it pit two of the top eight, and possibly top four, it pits two new management teams against each other. Be warned, however, it could be an anti-climax.

With Andy McAntee after stepping up to the Meath job with an All-Ireland medal in his back pocket, what could be the up and coming manager, thirty year old John O’Brien, will be hoping to make a name for himself with Boden.

Having managed DIT’s Sigerson Cup team and won a Meath and Leinster Junior championship with Curraha, now is the acid test for O’Brien.

Plunkett’s/ER for their part, on the surface of it at least, seem to have invested in gold, bringing in Paul Curran, who has ended senior championship drought with each of his two recent projects, Clan nan Gael in Roscommon and Ballymun in Dublin. He appears to have the Midas touch.

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Curran has won to senior championships in two club stints

However, there remains a niggling doubt that Curran might just have been sold a pup. Of their golden generation of Dublin stars, Alan, Paul and Bernard Brogan, Ross McConnell and Declan Lally, and Cavan and Fermanagh players Gareth “Nesty” Smyth and Shane Lyons, only Bernard Brogan is still in his prime.

Time is catching up on the rest, and you have to assume that even since their 2015 loss to Boden 18 months ago, the other five will be lesser players than they were. Armagh player and Ireland International series vice-captain, Ciarán McKeever, has moved on since that game.

While a couple of prospects have come of age in that time, it’s difficult to imagine they’ll be on a par with seven veteran inter-county players.

Of course, Tomás Corrigan and Paul Galvin have come into the set up since. That has to be a major factor, but it must also be noted that Corrigan was in the side last year that fell at the first hurdle to Castleknock, and apparently he’s injured. And Galvin might not necessarily be as big an asset as you’d imagine (see Paul Galvin article).

Ballyboden don’t have the same issues. For example, Conal Keaney has reached the twilight of his playing days, and Dublin panelist, Colm Basquel, has come of age, for example. While perhaps not as dominant at minor now as they were ten to fifteen years ago, the conveyor belt is still running. They’re one of five clubs who consistently have Division 1 sides at all age groups of Dublin football. It’s well over ten years since Plunkett’s/ER have had one!

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Keaney is 34 now, but it won’t affect Boden too much

Saying that, despite the age dynamics of Plunkett’s, be it a five man or a six man, I’d say without hesitation that they still have the best forward line in club football in the country.

Bernard Brogan and Tomáss Corrigan up top would make/push for a spot on an international fifteen. If they’re going with three up front, “Nesty” Smyth is one of the best sharp shooters in the game, and a wily fox to boot.

In the half forward line, while Alan Brogan won’t terrorise defences like he once did, he’s still the game controlling brain in the engine room from centre forward. By my ratings, Paul Brogan could have done for ten years for Dublin ninety percent of what Brian Dooher did for Tyrone. On a match per match basis of games I’ve analysed, he has had the highest line breaking figures in Dublin. For example, he made the initial line break for Plunkett’s/ER’s three goals against Croke’s in 2014.

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Paul Brogan can be as significant as his more famous brothers

And while neither are household names, Conor Walsh is one of the best ball carriers in Dublin, and his brother Niall, on his day, can be one of the most devastating wing forwards.

That’s already seven, and we haven’t included Paul Galvin!

Their big issue, and the big tactical question is what to do with their 2-9. While I’d have midfielder Craig Dunleavy in any club side, outside of that, you’re generally left with a choice between superb footballers who you might not fancy going man on man on top forwards, or superb man markers who wouldn’t have the football skills to make a Ballyboden first fifteen.

In reality, their Hyde to Jekyll transformation from losing to Balinteer in 2013, to beating Croke’s Ballymun and Jude’s in 2014, probably alluded to their management team of Pat McDonagh and Paul Clarke making their defence add up to more than the sum of their parts.

The question is, can Curran do the same? Having not seen his Clan na nGael charges in Roscommon, I can only speculate if his all go-go-go tactics at Ballymun were based on an immovable philosophy in all out attack, or if he built a system to suit the most athletic club team in the country.

If he tries to go all out attack against Boden, my suspicion is they’ll be pummeled. If they should end up exposed man on man at the back against the likes of Darren O’Neill, Colm Baquel, and Andrew Kerin, I simply can’t see the Plunkett’s defence holding them, no more than they could hold Vincent’s for the 37 minutes when  they got the run on them and attacked man on man in the 2014 final and put up 14 points to five from the tenth to 47th minute.

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Darren O’Neill’s pace would likely expose Plunkett’s/Er if he gets man on man

If Curran can manoeuvre a systematic unit in defence like McDonagh and Clarke did, then the big questions come down to whether or not Boden can counter-attack quickly enough to counter that, and how they will do holding Plunkett’s/ER’s forwards, particularly Bernard Brogan and Tomás Corrigan, and Paul Brogan.

Robbie McDaid and Stephen Hiney, however, have already shown that they can hold the best forwards in Dublin club football, so their ability or inability to do this again will be key. Plunkett’s full forward line will need to get the better of these two if they’re to prevail.

If Brogan and “Nesty” Smyth or Corrigan were going to be left man on man, you’d fancy it, but they probably won’t so they’ll need to be in top form if they’re going to penetrate this full back line if they’re facing spare defenders too.

Essentially, if it were to come down to a question of which side would have the greater capacity to break down the opposition’s blanket defence, I’d maybe marginally fancy Plunkett’s.

However, my suspicion is that whatever way Curran shuffles the deck, at best, he’ll need those little things to go right to squeeze over the line. At worst, it’s not beyond reason that we could be in for an anti-climax in the marquee first round draw, and Boden could run out big winners.

All in all, assuming Boden’s manager, John O’Brien, to be top notch, or even close to it, and that Curran doesn’t gain a significant tactical edge, I suspect that  Boden from number 2-15, and even more so, 16-21, just have too much pace and ability for Curran to cook things favourably enough in Plunkett’s/Er’s direction.

If he manages it, I’d chalk him down as one of the top managers in the country. However, my feeling is that the old lions of Plunkett’s just won’t have the legs anymore to apply the game they did in 2014 and 2015 when they ran respective All-Ireland champions to point.

Assuming Boden to either get kick-outs off quickly or win even 50/50 on long ones, I’d fancy them to take this one, probably by more than five points.

Regardless, I think that near ly 50/50 odds are well off the mark here.

By Stephen O’Meara