By Conor Martin
Kilmacud Crokes take on Naas in the AIB Leinster Club Senior Football Championship Final this weekend as they look for a hat-trick of Leinster titles in a row.
The pair met last year in the quarter-final stage and the south Dubliners overcame the challenge of the 11-time Kildare Senior Football Championship winners with ease as Crokes found the back of the net three times in their 3-14 to 0-14 win.
A solid performance from Shane Cunningham and goals from Craig Dias, Hugh Kenny and Dara Mullin saw the Dublin champions well on their way to completing the Championship treble of the Dublin, Leinster and All-Ireland titles.
But with this being a throwback piece, we can’t ignore the final the two teams played out in the 2021 edition of the provincial championship - with the final played in January 2022.
After beating St Judes by a solitary point in the Dublin decider, they went on to see off Meath’s Wolfe Tones and Portarlington from Laois in the quarter and semi-final, respectively, coming from behind in both games as they set up a date with Naas in the Leinster finale.
Naas’ route to the final saw them win their first senior Championship in 21 years. They then beat Tullamore in the preliminary round before overcoming Blessington and Wexford’s Shelmailers to earn a place in the provincial final.
The final was played against the backdrop of the world and Ireland emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that due to restrictions, the normally lively and raucous Croke Park was restricted to an attendance of 5000. But, in fairness, those in attendance did make their voices heard.
Crokes went into the game missing key player Paul Mannion, who was replaced in the starting 15 by Callum Pearson.
Tom Fox got the Dubliners first two scores of the final, while Pearson and Mullin helped Kilmacud into a three-point lead with 15 mins on the clock gone.
Naas would wipe that lead out and would be level before they took the lead thanks to Eamonn Callaghan, but Kilmacud found some rhythm once more and were ahead at the break by a point, thanks to an injury-time score from Dias.
Mullin had a goal chance early in the second-half to give Crokes some breathing space, but his effort crashed off the post.
Mullin was then played in by Dias, only for Naas’ Cathal Daly to get a hand on Mullin's effort to tip it over the bar for just a point to stop a certain goal.
The south Dubliners then pulled away from their Kildare opposition with points from Aidan Jones, and a double from Fox to wrap up a dominant Kilmacud performance that saw them prevent Naas from scoring a single point in the second-half as they won a fifth Leinster title.
AIB Leinster Club Senior Football Championship Final 2021 - Teams
Kilmacud Crokes: Conor Ferris (0-01, 0-01f); Michael Mullin, Ross McGowan, Dan O'Brien (0-01); Cillian O'Shea, Rory O'Carroll, Andrew McGowan; Craig Dias (0-01), Conor Casey; Aidan Jones (0-01), Dara Mullin (0-03), Tom Fox (0-05, 0-02f); Hugh Kenny, Shane Cunningham, Callum Pearson (0-02)
Kilmacud Crokes Substitutes: Shane Horan for Kenny h/t, Cian O'Connor for Pearson 49’, Anthony Quinn for Cunningham 55’, Darragh Jones for Fox 57’, James Murphy for Dias 62’
Naas: Jack Rodgers; Cathal Daly, Eoin Doyle, Paul Sullivan; Tom Browne, Brian Byrne, Paddy McDermott (0-01); James Burke, Jack Cleary; Sean Cullen, Colm Joyce, Brian Kane; Eamonn Callaghan (0-04, 0-04f), Luke Griffin, Dermot Hanafin (0-02)
Naas Substitutes: Conor McCarthy for Joyce 48’, Ailin McDermott for Kane 55’, Jack McKevitt for Cullen 55’, Shane Bergin for Griffin 56’, David Gahin for Cleary 59’
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)