Naas players Jack Cleary, James Burke and Sean Cullen celebrate after their semi final win against Shelmaliers
Naas are just sixty plus minutes away from joining former greats of Kildare, Leinster senior club football champions, Raheens and Moorefield (x2) when they (Naas) take to the hallowed turf of Croke Park for the second time in a few weeks, and a clash with Dublin champions, Kilmacud Crokes, this Saturday, January 8, 2022 with a 5 pm timed throw-in.
It will be only the eighth time a Kildare team has graced Leinster Senior Club final day, the others, apart from the previous winners being, Clane, Sarsfields (x2) and Round Towers.
Kilmacud Crokes have four provincial titles to their name, 1994, 2005, 2008 and 2010.
The Dublin champions come into this final as hot favourites at 1/4 with Naas at the very attractive odds of 7/2, of course as we have pointed out on many occasions over the years, bookies odds stand for nothing when 30 players cross over the chalked lines, regardless of the venue.
Kilmacud though have some very experienced players amongst their ranks with the main man being Dublin star Paul Mannion, but they are far from a one man side with well known names such as Rory O'Carroll, Craig Dias and Shane Cunningham, to name just a few.
Not, in fairness, that Naas are short of well-known county players, led by player/ manager Eoin Doyle along with Paddy McDermott, Darragh Kirwan, and hopefully, the injured Alex Beirne, while team captain Eamonn Callaghan has worn the white shirt of Kildare with distinction since he first pulled it over his head back in 2002.
At this stage anything worth saying has already been said about Naas, with such descriptions as unbelievable, a fairytale, incredible, call it or describe it what you like but it has been a season todate, like no other ever experienced by the boys in blue and white.
And with the hurlers also blazing a trail, and a Leinster final on the way the weekend after this one, it is a situation that no one could have predicted, no one could have envisaged and no one could have even dreamed about.
Add in the fact that the club parted company with their manager one week before the Kildare SFC semi final and it just all adds to the intrigue, adds to the incredible success of 2021.
And while Paul Kelly and the club parted, team captain, Eamonn Callaghan, certainly did not forget his former manager when Naas defeated Sarsfields in the county final some weeks ago now.
“This is still Paul Kelly's team, Paul Kelly's tactics, Paul Kelly's disciplined side” Callaghan said, something that in fairness should not be forgotten, either now or in years to come.
While Kilmacud Crokes are the favourites to succeed it should always be remembered that before the Leinster Club begins each year a Dublin side is automatically installed as favs; no one particular club mind you, just a Dublin team, regardless of who emerges.
And while Paul Mannion - reported doubtful after picking up a knee injury in the semi-final against Portarlington but that probably should be taken with a grain of salt - is their main scoring threat, Naas, on the other hand, have a few scoring threats, particularly from Darragh Kirwan but also from Eamonn Callaghan, Dermot Hanafin and Luke Griffin.
Against Shelmaliers Naas had their backs to the wall for long periods. Their set-up that day was somewhat bewildering, concentrating on defence rather than taking the game to their opponents.
While defensively Naas are more than decent, their main threat comes from further up field, especially hen moving the ball at pace, precision like, finding men off-the-shoulder — they are more than capable of opening up defences.
Keeper Jack Rodgers is an excellent stopper, his kick-outs will be vital against Kilmacud; he seems to have the right temperament for one so young.
Brian Kane, whether on defensive duties, or in an attacking role, has enjoyed a great season while full back Paul Sullivan had been a solid performer throughout.
The half back line has been the launching pad where the attacks commence. Tom Browne and Paddy McDermott are two very attacking wing backs while Brian Byrne at no. 6 showed against Shelmaliers (again) that he can come forward with pace and accuracy. Eoin Doyle usually dons the no. 8 shirt but operates further back, he is an inspirational player and so vital to the Naas cause.
Jack Cleary has had a great season, missed out against Blessington through injury, and only came on at half time in the semi final but he is a very influential player and with James Burke or Sean Cullen alongside offer more than a decent midfield partnership.
Luke Griffin showed against Blessington what he is capable of, and started in brilliant fashion last time out; Paul McDermott is a work horse and gives it his all.
Naas have a decent bench as we have seen. Dermot Hanifin missed out on a starting spot, through injury, in the semi but scored a cracking goal when introduced.
Conor McCarthy, Colm Joyce, Ailin McDermott, Cathal Daly are players more than capable of holding their own while young Jack McKevitt (son of Darragh) came from no where when introduced two weeks ago, and can be more than pleased with his display.
Finals though are finals, anything can happen, if Naas are to succeed, the first thing is to forget about the Dublin factor, when the ball is thrown-in that stands for nothing.
Kick-outs will be vitally important, essential to give the kicker something to aim for, but probably the main factor is not to let Kilmacud dictate, like Shelmaliers did for long periods. A more attacking approach than what we saw in the semi-final would surely be more beneficial to the Kildare champions.
It has been an incredible season for Naas, a victory on Saturday would cap it off brilliantly.
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