Can St Laurence’s shake off the monkey or will Sarsfields prevail again

IT is said that a week is a long time in politics, and the same could be said of sport. However when a week turns into a year the difference can be somewhat mesmerising at times, writes Tommy Callaghan.

IT is said that a week is a long time in politics, and the same could be said of sport. However when a week turns into a year the difference can be somewhat mesmerising at times, writes Tommy Callaghan.

Take this weekend’s MDY senior football championship clash between Sarsfields and St. Laurence’s as an example.

This time 12 months ago Sarsfields lined up against a young and inexperienced Athy side in the quarter final and not alone were Sarsfields dumped out of the title race (0-13 to 0-11) but the Newbridge boys lost the plot entirely, ending the game with just twelve players.

Fast forward to this year and Sarsfields, having won the Aldridge Cup and the Leinster Leader Cup, now find themselves just 60 minutes away from reaching this year’s SFC decider.

The difference?

In two words.

John Crofton.

One of the famous sons of Sarsfields has returned and has changed the direction; changed many of the personnel; has brought a discipline that one would expect from a manager of his experience and expertise.

As we mentioned Crofton has already brought silverware to Sarsfields Park, defeating Maynooth in the Aldridge Cup final and Celbridge in the Leinster Leader Cup final.

Much has changed under Crofton, not least the team personnel. This weekend The Sash will line out with eight possibly nine of the players that lost out to Athy last season. It is a sizeable change but is hardly a major surprise.

Crofton does not suffer fools gladly or in this case does not hold on to any player who fails to buy into his way of thinking, whether that be discipline, training, tactics or whatever.

And while the results in 2012 have been very encouraging, whether he can lead his team to the top table in his first season is in one sense somewhat immaterial.

What is nearly more important is the fact that Sarsfields are now where Crofton would have wanted them to be after less that 12 months at the helm.

Installed as firm favourites to win the 2012 title race they are back amongst the top teams in club football within the county and will, without question, be king pins, if not this year, then certainly inside the next year or two.

Their opposition on Sunday, in a game to be played in Hawkfield due to the county hurling final taking place in St. Conleth’s Park, is St. Laurence’s.

The Larries, winners of the title back in 2009 are an experienced side, very experienced, but they have one record, one monkey on their back they are going to have to shake off if they are to reach this season’s senior final.

And that is?

Yes, you’ve guessed it, Sarsfields.

St. Laurence’s you see have never beaten Sarsfields in championship football and no matter which way you look at it that is a major drawback.

Of course, on the positive side one could argue that that ‘monkey’ will eventually be thrown off and no doubt the family that is The Larries would dearly love to shake it off come Sunday.

Is it possible? Of course it is., without question.

But will it happen?

That’s a horse of a different colour as James Reilly might have said to Roisin Shortall last week, albeit in a different context.

But Sarsfields would want to be on their guard. There are many of their supporters who have little doubt that this one is already done and dusted.

“Sure we always get the better of The Larries” is a phrase that is being heard over and over around town this week.

Fair enough, supporters are supporters but when players (some) are openly agreeing with that viewpoint, I’d imagine it is not something that the Sarsfields management would be overly keen on.

At this stage that kind of talk, that kind of mind-set must be music to the ears of St. Laurence’s players and mentors alike.

So how will this one go?

Can Pádraig Brennan lead his boys to the decider against either Athy or Carbury?

Was the anilation of Naas in the quarter final due to the an excellent and impressive display from the Newbridge boys or the fact that the county town team failed to turn up on the day?

You can equally ask were The Larries that so much superior to Celbridge or was in that the boys from the north of the county just never clicked into top gear?

St. Laurence’s, while not firing on all cylinders against Celbridge, were rarely troubled throughout. However, the fact that Pádraig Fogarty (began life in the Defence Forces last week along with Seán Campbell of Sarsfields) scored eight of his side’s ten point total may be of some concern but nevertheless when you have the likes of the Lawlor boys (Dessie and Ronnie), Shaun Fahey and Pádraig Fogarty in a side the potential to unlock the best of defences is very high indeed.

At the back Shane Connolly is as good a keeper that is around at any level Niall Clynch is a sound no. 3 while Karl O’Brien is a very experienced defender at this stage.

Tommy O’Neill well knows the ropes at no. 6 while Mark Finnegan, played a roving role against Celbridge very effectively and will probably play that same role come Sunday.

Pádraig O’Neill will always give it everything while JP Byrne and Mossy Doyle will leave nothing behind, so all in all The Larries will pose a major test for the new look Sash and will no doubt drop back their two wing forwards and then go forward in numbers when in possession.

Sarsfields are without doubt the form team of this season. Patrick O’Sullivan is playing very well between the sticks, fronted by the impressive Sean Campbell (if fit) while Donnchadh McDonnell is playing out of his skin as is Conor Duffy. Conor Tiernan gets forward using his speed to advantage. He had a stormer against Naas, not only looking after Eamonn Callaghan but also finding the time to knock over a few points.

Whether Gary White will operate at no. 6 or midfield will depend on how injuries pan out but Niall O’Callaghan has been filling in very well of late at centre back.

Matty Byrne is doing very nicely in the middle and while Chalky will probably be his partner the return to near full fitness of Caoimhne McDonnell is a real boost.

Up front Ray Cahill has been a revelation this season; Pádraig Brennan is leading by example, Declan McKenna takes a lot of watching as does Robbie Confrey while Alan Smith’s work rate in the quarter final was very impressive.

Potentially this could be a cracker and while The Sash are hot favourites at 1/2 to advance with the local layers (Cill Dara Betting) The Larries will have their supporters and despite being priced at 2/1 should not be dismissed lightly.

At the end of the day the vote goes to Sarsfields, on the understanding that they will take to the field in the right frame of mind and under Crofton it would be a surprise if they didn’t.

Anythink less and the Larries will finally get that dreaded monkey off their back.

Prediction: Sarsfields.