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Shamrocks' form augurs well for historic provincial success as injury concerns mount

Egis Paulikas

Reporter:

Egis Paulikas

Email:

egis@alphanewspapers.com

WITH a compelling run of form behind them and their confidence sky high, Shamrocks will have a golden chance of a historic provincial success when they take on Kildare's Two Mile House in the Leinster Club Intermediate Football Championship final on Saturday next.

Home advantage in Bord na Mona O'Connor Park is a huge plus for Shanmrocks and while they are up against very highly rated opposition in Two Mile House, their form has been so good this year that they will be marginal favourites.

It has been a fantastic year for Shamrocks, who have gone through a torrid few years since bowing out of top flight football at the start of the decade.

At that stage, they were expected to bounce straight back up but it didn't happen for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, most of the great team of the 2000s were in the Winter of their career and they began to bow out gradually and then it took time for some of the fine young emerging talent to make their mark.

That coupled with some other fine teams in the Senior “B” Football Championship meant that Shamrocks couldn't get across the line, as they didn't manage to reach a final until this year.

Everything finally clicked into gear for them this year, however, and they have been completely dominant.

They won all their group games in Offaly, beat Erin Rovers in the semi-final and were way too strong for Tubber in the final.

It is a long time since a club has dominated a championship to the extent that Shamrocks have but they were unstoppable.

They were hugely impressive as they controlled most games and they have maintained that form into the Leinster campaign – they were particularly impressive in the sem-final as they easily beat Wexford's Horeswood.

Shamrocks' ambition now is to continue this progress into senior football next year but they would love to close out a memorable year with a Leinster success.

They have every chance of doing so but fate has dealt them a cruel blow.

Influential midfielder and centre half back, Johnny O'Toole-Greene and Scott Delaney are definitely out. Greene, sent off in the quarter-final win over Carlow's Ballinabranna, is getting a knee operation this week while Delaney damaged ligaments in his ankle during the semi-final and is out for eight weeks.

Both are cruel losses for Shamrocks. Greene had been their dominant midfielder while Delaney has been rock steady at the heart of the defence.

David O'Toole-Greene, a brother of Johnny, came in at midfield in the semi-final and was excellent in a super all round team performance while Andrew Delaney has really stepped up to the plate in the last couple of games and Shamrocks will still have a very strong midfield pairing.

Cathal O'Brien is likely to return to the defence in Scott Delaney's absence. He had been in fine form for them throughout the campaign but lost his place for the quarter-final after missing a training session.

He came on as a sub against Horeswood and is the obvious candidate to come onto the team, assuimg there is no miraculous recovery by Delaney. It may mean changing the defence around a small bit but Shamrocks have options while Alan Foster impressed when coming off the bench in the Ballinabranna win.

Shamrocks will have the rosary beads out as they pray that Alan Heffernan is declared fit. Heffernan went off with a hamstring injury against Horeswood and is a serious doubt.

He has been in sensational form in the Shamrocks attack, with a deadly left foot as he has scored regularly from play as well as excelling as a play maker. If Alan Heffernan doesn't make it on top of Greene and Delaney, then Shamrocks will be in trouble but they will be doing everything in their power to get him right.

While Shamrocks have played very well as a unit, their success story this year has essentially been based on the outstanding form of three superb forwards, Heffernan, Nigel Dunne and Paddy Dunican.

Dunne has been playing some of the best football of his career for them. A naturally talented and skilful player, he has taken on the mantle of a leader in recent games, bringing other players into the game, moving the ball quicker than he has at some stages in his career and showing deadly accuracy off either foot.

Dunne has been clearly enjoying his football while Paddy Dunican's return from America was the final piece in the Shamrocks' jigsaw.

He was away for a few of their group games but has been superb since returning. Man of the match in the final against Tubber, he was also brilliant against Horeswood and the presence of this trio suggests that Shamrocks can hold their own in senior.

There is of course a lot more strings to Shamrocks' bow than three players and they have been collectively very good as they have played an attractive brand of football, mixing in a possession based game with some great long foot passing.

Shamrocks will be very aware of the challenge presented by Two Mile House.

The Kildare intermediate champions will be very difficult to beat. Their chief scorer is Aidan Casey, who is deadly from frees and play while Shamrocks will be making special plans for Chris Casey, scorer of four points from play in the semi-final win over Courtwood.

It is a 50/50 game but Shamrocks have a lot going for them. They know what it takes to win, they have home advantage and the form of key players such as Dunne, Dunican and Alan Heffernan suggests that they can get across the line.

Verdict – Shamrocks.

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