It started as a slow-burner and finished in a scrappy, edgy confrontation, but the upshot of yesterday’s Evening Herald Dublin SHC final is that Ballyboden St Enda’s claimed a third successive county hurling crown in a less than barnstorming county decider.
A seven-point defeat of Craobh Chiaráin is the sort of result that suggests the kind of leisurely afternoon many expected Boden to enjoy in the run-up to the final, but the celebrations on the pitch told a story of the jubilation everyone at the club rightly felt at the final whistle.
That their ‘three peat’ came in immediate succession after ending their championship famine in 2006 is quite an achievement in itself, but given the tsunami of talented underage sides the club have been producing of late, it hardly constitutes a major surprise.
And given that the Ballyboden footballers had earlier — and against massive odds — claimed the Dublin football championship, thus making yesterday’s win the second leg of a hugely impressive dual double — the first in the county since 1981 — the victory inherited more widespread satisfaction for the Firhouse men.
Perhaps, though, the greatest significance of the win for the hurlers of Ballyboden was the identity of the opposition, the manner of the victory and the moments of adversity they had encountered this year.
Prior to 2006 Boden had been the great enigma of Dublin hurling — an outrageously talented senior team brimming with inter-county players and an underage set-up to make most other clubs in the county drool.
But that elusive first title just took longer to come than anyone anywhere had imagined.
Usually Ballyboden’s championship campaigns unfold thus: play some spellbinding hurling early on and sweep all before them before the more wily, hardy men representing Craobh or O’Toole’s would give them a beating, a lesson and a few bumps and bruises once the hurling got serious and the sod softened up.
Back-to-back victories over the past two years have vanquished that perception of the men in blue and white stripes, though county final defeats to Craobh in 2001 and 2006 when Boden were definite favourites meant no one could be exactly sure how yesterday would transpire.
True, they had shown battling qualities to see off O’Toole’s in a replay but the more pessimistic Boden followers questioned why the team had found themselves in a replay in the first place.
Plus, there was a suspicion, or certainly a hope anyway, in some quarters that there was one more major kick in Craobh and that their ’06 championship-winning team had another title in them.
But this is a different Boden team from that of three years ago. Some of their older players such as Daragh Spain and Dave Sweeney are enjoying fine Indian summers to their distinguished careers.
The younger members, such as Simon Lambert, Paul Ryan and Shane Durkin are maturing into quality players.
And as a whole, the team is stronger, physically and mentally, and as they demonstrated yesterday, capable of winning a Dublin title without quite hitting the peak of their abilities.
Yet it was all set up for such a Croabh ambush at half-time in Parnell Park. The rain had held off to allow the match go ahead but, on a slippy and rain-soaked surface, who could be sure just how much influence the conditions would have on the hurling fare.
Boden were, mostly on the strength of a stiff and favourable breeze, just two points ahead at that juncture, though if 33 or so minutes separated the first whistle to referee Eoin Mullarkey’s interval blast, the ball was in play for only a tiny fraction of that time.
Mostly, the passages of play were short, fractured and finished with a free being awarded to one team or the other. And that suited Craobh immeasurably.
Against the wind, they grafted and scrapped for ball but Boden still looked like the team who could could open up given a decent spell of open play. Only Kevin Warren of the Craobh Chairán forwards looked capable of causing headaches for the Firhouse back six and they were reliant on Alan McCrabbe for scores from frees and a creative touch from the middle of the park.
Given the frequency with which frees were being awarded, Ryan was going to play a big part for Boden and he duly delivered, capturing a personal scoring bounty of 1-11 (0-6f, 0-3 ’65’s), though had he had his sights better calibrated in the first half that lead could have been greater.
Ryan missed three scoreable frees and Craobh seemed to revel in the tightness of the exchanges approaching half-time. Conal Keaney clipped two fine points, though the Boden half-forward found it tough to win clean ball, but their endeavours were, at least, rewarded with plenty of frees.
Their inside trio of Ryan, Lambert and Niall McMorrow weren’t gathering to great effect either, though Lambert did set up a couple of clever scores for Keaney and David Curtin.
Clearly the start of the second half would be vital to the end game and Jonny McGuirk stuck over a fine score within seconds of the restart before Ryan hit back with a 65.
There was, however, a noticeable increase in the pace and openness of the game, and while Craobh huffed and puffed, they couldn’t get any closer to their opponents than the half-time gap.
Steven McDonald spooned a decent goal chance wide in the 38th minute after a mazy run from Dave Kirwan at a time in the match when a Craobh goal would have thrust the cat firmly among the pigeons, but Boden were rightly rewarded for their smoother play with the game-winning goal in the 47th minute.
Boden’s two-man inside forward line combined to force a low ball into the path of Ryan and he flicked the ball to the left of Stephen Chester before tapping into the net.
Croabh pressed on and were awarded a penalty, which was saved by Gary Maguire from McCrabbe’s strike but lost a man when McGuirk went for a straight red for his contribution to a late schemozzle in Boden’s half.
It was, unfortunately, a low note for the match to finish on but one over which Boden — three in a row hurling and dual double champions — didn’t linger on too long.
– Conor McKeon, Evening Herald