Eoghan Keyes in action for Raharney in this year's Westmeath senior ‘A’ hurling final against Lough Lene Gaels.

Raharney face a tough task against Na Fianna

The Gerry Buckley Column

In truth, with just an occasional exception here and there, Westmeath’s senior hurling champions have fared dismally in their respective Leinster club campaigns since the competition started a little over a half-century ago.

Indeed, the ignominy of relegation to the intermediate equivalent (albeit resulting in a superb All-Ireland win by a powerful Clonkill team in 2008) followed a series of very low-key efforts by the Lake County’s standard-bearers. Worryingly, some wise local heads have talked of a similar demotion in the not-too-distant future if results do not improve. For example, last season’s hammering of Castletown-Geoghegan by Ballyhale Shamrocks was not unexpected, but was still much heavier than had been hoped for.

Accordingly, it will not just be the proud hurling community in and around Raharney, but all fair-minded Westmeath Gaels, who will be hoping that the men in blue will buck the recent trend when they face first-time Dublin champions Na Fianna in TEG Cusack Park next Sunday (throw-in 2pm).

For the new metropolitan kingpins it was a case of third time lucky when they defeated Ballyboden St Enda’s by a whopping 16 points (2-19 to 0-9) in Parnell Park last Sunday week, the Glasnevin-based outfit (better known for their football exploits, with two-time Sam Maguire-winning manager Dessie Farrell as their best known alumnus in the big ball game) having lost both their first and second finals to Kilmacud Crokes in 2021 and 2022. This hat-trick of appearances in the decider largely came courtesy of the club winning three in-a-row Dublin U21 hurling championship titles (2016-2018) and four in-a-row minor crowns (2014-2017).

In Raharney’s case, it will be a somewhat unlikely case of sixth time lucky should they upset the odds next Sunday, as Westmeath teams have lost five out of five showdowns against their Dublin counterparts, the latest coming a little under two years ago when the Deelsiders were well and truly beaten by the aforementioned Kilmacud Crokes in Mullingar.

Yours truly’s disappointment was compounded by my wrong prediction (one of many over the years!) to a leading national sports journalist before the game that “I will be very surprised if Raharney don’t put it right up to Crokes”.

As it transpired, the visitors headed back up the N4 with a facile 19-point win (5-19 to 0-15) under their belts. My second paragraph in a match report for this newspaper read: “In addition to a clear gulf in physicality, an ability to find the net at crucial junctures was the main difference between the teams. Kilmacud scored four fine goals – the fifth was a fluke – while their opponents spurned a gilt-edged opportunity before the visitors pounced for their first three-pointer.”

The word ‘physicality’ invariably comes up whenever a Dublin inter-county or club team takes the field in both codes, and next Sunday is sure to be no different with the gold and blue-clad outfit certain to be a typically well-drilled and focused metropolitan team, even allowing for some inevitable celebrations after achieving their Holy Grail in such a decisive fashion.

Many of us like to use ‘puntastic’ headlines and there was no shortage of references after the Dublin final to the Currie brothers proving ‘too hot to handle’ etc, with Sean Currie (2-5 – all from play, with both goals coming in the first half) and his brother Colin (0-10 – including eight placed balls), scoring all but four points of the Mobhi Rd men’s 2-19 in their inaugural final victory.

Also, while the Liam MacCarthy Cup has proved elusive for the Dubs and their household names in the small ball game are therefore few and far between, the ability of former All Star Liam Rushe at centre half back is recognised throughout the land. Indeed, Na Fianna managed to win the blue riband of Dublin hurling despite being short the services of skipper Donal Burke, an important starter under Micheál Donoghue in sky blue and navy.

It seems likely that one of Rushe’s primary duties will be to keep tabs on Killian Doyle, a rare talent as he again proved when breaking every heart in Collinstown last month with his last-gasp wonder goal. The 2022 All Star nominee’s exploits will be well known to Niall Ó Ceallacháin and his management team.

Of course, Ger Flanagan’s troops are far from a one-man team, with Killian’s twin brother Ciaran, the Greville and Keyes brothers, Cormac and Joey Boyle, the ever-improving Jamie Mulkearns at full back, among those likely to have come on following an impressive win in the Westmeath Examiner Cup (albeit put to the pin of their collar by Lough Lene Gaels in a memorable decider), in addition to picking up invaluable experience at this elite level even in defeat two years ago.

As stated, it is time for a Westmeath side to lay down a marker in Leinster. Next Sunday would be a great time to do so, with the prospect of a winnable semi-final to follow against whichever side triumphs in the Camross (Laois) v Naas (Kildare) quarter-final, also down for decision next Sunday.

The Na Fianna team (with scorers) lined out as follows in their recent Dublin final win:

Jonathan Treacy; Kevin Burke, Conor McHugh, Sean Burke; Diarmuid Clerkin, Liam Rushe, Paul O'Dea; Brian Ryan, Peter Feeney; John Tierney, Sean Currie (2-5), Colin Currie (0-10, 7f, 1 ‘65’); Ciaran Stacey (0-1), AJ Murphy (0-1), Shane Barrett. Subs: Micheál Murphy for Barrett (33), Sean Baxter (0-1) for Murphy (44), Gavin King (0-1) for Tierney (51), Donal Ryan for McHugh (58), Martin Quilty for B Ryan (60).

The five previous Westmeath v Dublin games in the Leinster Club SHC resulted as follows:

22/10/1983, Croke Park, Erin’s Isle 3-8 Brownstown 1-8

1/11/1987, O’Toole Park, Faughs 2-16 Ringtown 1-8

6/11/2011, Cusack Park, Ballyboden St Enda’s 2-12 Clonkill 1-13

6/11/2018, Parnell Park, Ballyboden St Enda’s 2-25 Clonkill 2-19

28/11/2021, TEG Cusack Park, Kilmacud Crokes 5-19 Raharney 0-15.