Mixing it with the big boys

Eoghan Cormican

DCU will have it all to do when they meet Kildare in what should be a humdinger of an O’Byrne Cup final at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Friday, February 17.

The final was originally fixed for Sunday January 29, but was called off following two pitch inspections at a waterlogged St. Conleth’s Park.

Robert Hennelly, joint-chairman of DCU’s football club, said the last minute decision to call off the game beggared belief.

“It’s a joke that it was called off. We had lads travel to Dublin from all over the country and then to get told at 11 O’clock that morning that it was called off due to pitch flooding was very frustrating. It was the only game in the country called off that weekend.

“The Leinster council had our Sigerson Game which was due to be played the following Tuesday put back a week to accommodate this game, so when the O’Byrne cup final was called off it left a week off for us we weren’t expecting.”

Kildare declined to play the game the following day (Monday 30th) which resulted in the Leinster Council rescheduling the fixture for Friday week, which could impinge on DCU’s Sigerson campaign with the quarter finals provisionally fixed for February 15th and 16th.

In any event, the decider promises to be a riveting encounter as DCU feature Dublin’s’ Philly McMahon, Eoghan O’Gara, Paul Flynn and James McCarthy not to mention Sligo’s David Kelly who has been in fine fettle during the opening rounds.

Kildare, meanwhile, issued a real statement of intent to football’s ‘big three’ with their rout of the All Ireland champions Dublin in one sides semi-final clash.

Hennelly acknowledges the obstacle Kildare pose, but feels that DCU will give this game a real go. “It’s going to be very tough.  Kildare are a well established senior inter-county side with some very good players. However we won’t be giving them any respect in the final, if we did they would walk all over us. We know if we play to our ability, with the players we have we can beat them.

“Kildare have a lot of experienced players who have been playing for Kildare for years but if you look in our panel there are All Ireland under 21 winners, Senior Provincial winners and even All Ireland winners.”

DCU’s march to the final is punctuated by a string of impressive performances with Wicklow easily dispatched in the opening round before two fortuitous second half goals helped Niall Moyna’s men advance to the penultimate stage, fending off Glen Ryan’s Longford by 2-11 to 0-12.

The students continued that rich vein of form in their semi-final against a hapless Meath side – David Kelly netting twice to see DCU comfortably over the line.

The last time DCU annexed the O’Byrne Cup was the same year in which the Sigerson Cup also headed Northside. It’s not exactly the most lucrative of prizes on the GAA calendar, but Hennelly realises the importance of the competition in terms of building of a head of steam in their quest to recapture the Sigerson Cup.

“The O’Byrne cup has always been a really important competition for DCU, especially as a lead up to Sigerson.  The pace and the physicality of it are as close as you’ll get to Sigerson and for that reason it is better than any challenge game.  Last year we got knocked out by Kildare and it meant there was a big gap between our last competitive game and Sigerson, and no amount of training can get you ready for Sigerson.”

With such an array of talent amidst their ranks, Hennelly – who played in Mayo’s successful Connacht championship campaign of 2011-, admits their only goal with regard to the Sigerson Cup is to win it outright.

“After last year and all the lessons we learned we know to take it one game at a time.  There are always big shocks in Sigerson so if you’re not totally concentrated on every game you’re as well off not togging, that’s the great thing about it.  We have a great panel this year again and a great team spirit that rivals 2010 so I hope we can go out now and do ourselves and the college justice.

“We have beef with almost every team in the competition so can’t really single any (rivals) out. CIT beat us three years ago in the Sigerson and they went on to win it and I know a few of the lads were playing that day so that hurt them.

“If we do overcome CIT we’d be meeting DIT who are probably our biggest Dublin rival.  Outside of that, there are Jordanstown who we’ve always had a healthy rivalry with and then UCC from last year’s beating. College rivalry is unreal, it’s so intense and the atmosphere at games can be the same.  Hopefully some our old rivalries will be renewed in this year’s Sigerson, but sure we’ll take it one at a time.”

Regardless, DCU eyes remain firmly on the prize. They may have a date with Kildare, but it is O’Byrne Cup they hope will be escorting them home.

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