By Conor Martin
Na Fianna will be hoping to shake the hand of history on the steps of the Hogan Stand come Saturday evening, as they take O’Loughlin Gaels in the AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Final at Croke Park (4.05pm).
The Dublin champions have enjoyed a very successful 2023- finally claiming the Go-Ahead Dublin Senior 1 Hurling Championship title after missing out in 2021 and 2022- and they have continued their excellent performances into Leinster.
Seán and Colin Currie had no issue finding scores in front of goals as they and AJ Murphy racked up points on Na Fianna’s side of the scoreboard while Brian Ryan grabbed himself a goal on top of his three points from play to seal a well-deserved win for the Dublin champions.
Next up were the Kildare champs Naas in the semi-finals and the north Dubliners were pushed all the way for a place in the Leinster final.
Jack Sheridan helped ensure Naas kept the pressure on Na Fianna but points from Colin Currie, a goal and a point from open play from Ciaran Stacey alongside a three-pointer from Murphy saw Na Fianna home and into a maiden final, once step closer to lifting the O’Neill Cup for the first time.
O’Loughlin Gaels are looking for their third Leinster title having won it in 2003 and 2010 and will be going into Saturday’s full of confidence with the hope they can end the 13-year wait for another Leinster title.
They stopped Ballyhale Shamrocks' bid for six Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championships in a row with a dramatic one-point victory at the end of October.
Mark Bergin led the way on the scoring front with 0-10 (6f, 1 ‘65) before Paddy Deegan hit the match-winning point deep into injury-time.
In the Leinster quarter-final they would take on Mount Leinster Rangers and Bergin would star again, this time picking up eight points for himself and the Kilkenny outfit, while goals from Owen Wall and substitute Luke Hogan who fired home from a tight angle put the gloss on the nine-point win.
The men from the Marble City then took on Kilcormac-Killoughey in the semi-finals and O’Loughlin’s captain Bergin led the way once again- this time scoring seven with six of his scores coming from frees.
The Kilkenny senior hurling champions held a seven-point lead at the break, but their opposition dragged themselves back into the game. However, points from Bergin and Conor Heary saw the Gaels into the final.
As well as having a strong attack they have an impressive backline that features Kilkenny county panel members Deegan and Huw Lawlor who will be tasked with keeping the likes of Na Fianna’s in-form Currie brothers and the dangerous Murphy quiet.
Na Fianna also have experience in defence in the form of Liam Rushe, who will have to keep an eye on O’Loughlin’s Bergin.
Both teams go into the final with a real desire to keep their excellent year going. Na Fianna have shown they are more than worthy Dublin champions- as have O’Loughlin Gaels in regard to them being Kilkenny champions.
However, with Na Fianna finally winning the Go-Ahead Dublin Senior 1 Hurling Championship after years of coming so close and their performances on the way to the Dublin crown and in Leinster so far, they look determined to keep their historic season alive and go into Saturday’s final full of confidence with the self-belief that they can beat anyone on their day.
But they must be mindful that O’Loughlin Gaels have been written off more than once this year already and, having proved their doubters wrong, will relish being labelled underdogs ahead of the Leinster decider.