Group 2 : Lucan, Balinteer, Brigid’s, Fionbarra
At a glance this is probably the least remarkable group of the four, with three sides who haven’t been out of the group stages in some years.
Lucan appear to be the strong favourites, having reached the semi-finals last year and still having two thirds or so the side who played in the final four years ago, albeit that Peter Kelly is a huge loss, assuming his injury troubles haven’t given over.
They play a particularly intricate tactical game, involving getting a spare man into the half back line, and kept close to Cuala in the semi-final last year until the latter stages.
Typically, as opposed to trying to find the spare man in the half back line to pick out a forward, they look to use their spare man in the half back line to take the ball of the shoulder and burst through into the midfield area.
They stitched up Danny Sutcliff on puck-outs in the quarters last year making sure their spare man was in position to double up on him. There’s clearly a lot of thought goes into their game.
In John McCaffrey at midfield and John Bellew at half back, they have two of the best possession players in the game. In Kevin O’Reilly they have one of the niftier corner forwards on the club scene, and a free taker who can score from colossal distances. Oppositions be warned. Foul anywhere inside 110 yards at your peril!
Coming up against three sides who have failed to make it out of the group stages in recent years, on the surface of it at least, you’d imagine they have to be overwhelming favourites to top the group.
There is, however, one dynamic which may just interfere with that. While Brigid’s haven’t made it out of the group stages in some years now, they have a particularly strong minor team which has just come of age. They’ve had five players have been a minor All-Ireland quarter or semi-final action in the last two years, four last year, including centre back, Cian O’Sullivan, who is arguably one of the top young talents in Dublin.
With half of the starting Dublin minor defence that won Leinster last year, the chances are that they’re going to be a horse of a different colour this year. Their league form so far this year lends itself to this idea, with two wins from two against Vincent’s and Chiaráin’s.
Based on a league game I saw them play last year, they seem to play an old-school straight up six forwards, and when they got ball in early, they looked sharp up front.
Assuming that they still play this 6-2-6 formation, a lot will come down to how they adapt to Lucan’s 7-2-5, again, assuming that Lucan still play this way.
My sense is that with what you’d expect to be a side full of young guns, Lucan will have a bit too much experience for them and will control the middle third, quite possibly depriving Brigid’s young guns the opportunity to get on ball, man on man. Whoever wins, will be in prime position to top the group.
As for Balinteer and Fionbarra, it’s difficult to say, but their recent form wouldn’t leave either of the other two quaking in their boot. The bookies make them the third and fifth least likely sides to win the championship!
Balinteer couldn’t maintain their Division 1 league status last year with just a single victory, and albeit in a pretty horrid group, they had a pretty miserable time of it in the championship, ending with three losses at an average loss of 22 points!
All things considered, it’s difficult to see them beating Lucan, and not particularly likely that they’ll beat this young Brigid’s side.
By the same token, Fionbarra have been on the wrong side of two heavy league defeats this season, to Na Fianna and Croke’s, shipping seven goals in one of them. It’s difficult to see them being able to cope with Lucan’s possession game.
The one potential surprise could be when they face Brigid’s. Not unlike German football teams, Fionbarra can add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Absolutely nothing comes easily against them and when they face a young Brigid’s side, you’d expect that they’ll try to impose themselves physically. If a team, presumably with a lot of young, yet to be properly blooded senior players, aren’t up for the challenge, it’s not beyond reason that they could be knocked completely out of their stride.
Saying that, with the wealth of talent coming through in the last couple of seasons, to join an already established Division 1 side, chances are it will be a bridge too far.
By Stephen O’Meara