NOT since Ardclough has a team won four successive county SHC titles, but that is the carrot that is dangling in front of Celbridge ahead of this Sunday’s county final meeting with Confey in Newbridge, writes John Ryan.
Ardclough achieved that feat in 1982, before going on the following year to make it five-in-a-row, a similar feat achieved by Clane (twice) and Eire Og/Corrachoill.
Celbridge eyes might not yet be focussing on a drive-for-five but going on the balance of power in the county, few would bet against them matching or bettering that level of dominance.
While this year’s championship hasn’t as yet set the pulses racing, it is nonetheless testament to the quality, determination and battling abilities of both Celbridge and Confey that both of them are still in the running for the Sean Carey Cup considering that they have both been pushed to the pins of their respective collars on more than one occasion.
Neither side have so far been overly convincing en-route to this weekend’s decider, spells in different games aside, but what better place to address that than on the big day in St Conleth’s Park.
Understandably, defending champions Celbridge will enter the game as favourites, however marginal. It is a tag that they have become used to in recent seasons and one that their opponents Confey will gladly pass up on. This Sunday’s game is also a repeat of last year’s final but it’s highly unlikely that that clash of 12 months ago will have any bearing on this weekend’s result.
All the same, Confey will have learned lessons from last year’s encounter and just like Ardclough, they would love nothing more than to beat Celbridge, the modern-day standard-bearers in this county.
Following their last-ditch victory over Naas in the semi-final, Confey have benefitted from an extra week’s R & R, some of which they spent taking in Celbridge’s dramatic replay victory over Ardclough last Saturday.
While Celbridge’s impressive never-say-die attitude would have sent out a few warning signs, certainly Confey would have picked up a few pointers from that game too, none more so than the fact that Celbridge are vulnerable to the concession of goals. While they have scored eight in seven games, they have however leaked 11 in that same period. Confey, for their part, have found the net on ten occasions in six outings.
The scoring of goals may go a long way to deciding the outcome of this Sunday’s encounter but it is unlikely that that will be the single decisive factor.
As stated, Celbridge have yet to hit top form but worryingly for Confey they turned in their best performance to date in seeing off their near-neighbours Ardclough and are winning games, even if a second attempt is needed from time to time.
There are many reasons as to why Celbridge have struggled for form, due to in part to player unavailability at different stages of the season, as well as the fact that this group – who have tasted championship defeat in Kildare on only two occasions in the past four years – have been on the road without relent for most if not all of that time, inter-county duty included.
Yet, they continue to show their mettle and hunger and with virtually a full complement at their disposal – corner-back Conor Ryan is a serious doubt, but midfielder Danny Butler will be available for selection after holidays as will Billy White (hamstring), while Tony Murphy, Niall Ó Muineachain and Fergal Conway have slotted back in following their respective travels abroad – all is beginning to fall into place.
In many ways this game could follow a similar fashion to that of the recent All Ireland SHC between Kilkenny and Galway.
Celbridge could arguably be compared to the Cats in that they have, to use the dreaded term ‘on paper at least’, more strings to their bow without ever fully showing their hand.
Predictably they will start with Gerry Keegan, Conor Kenny, Mark Moloney, Fergal Conway, Tony Murphy and Sean O’Carroll in their forwards but such is the versatility of that sextet they could pop up in any of the six positions of attack over the course of the hour.
And that is the greatest challenge to Confey. Yes, Ed Holland’s side have already beaten Celbridge in this year’s championship and that should give them added belief, but county final day is a different animal.
Holland’s big dilemma is whether or not to go man-for-man because undoubtedly the aforementioned Keegan, Kenny, Moloney, Conway, Murphy and O’Carroll are going to inter-change as they see fit and with it disrupt Confey’s rear-guard.
As for Confey, they must take the pressure off Paul Divilly when it comes to score-taking. As good a hurler as there is in the county on his day, particularly this year, at times however Divilly’s game has suffered because of the need for him to deliver the scores that his side have craved, but it was encouraging to see Darragh Nolan (1-4) and Colm Chan (1-2) chip in nicely in the late, late victory over Naas.
Divilly is a key man for the 2007 and ’08 champions, as his no-nonsense brother Michael at centre-back, but while Confey won’t be found wanting in most sectors, they will need to overcome the fact that they have a tendency to drift in and out of games far too often.
They might not live to tell the tale against Celbridge if they follow such a pattern.