07 Dec 2021

Kildare GAA: Hard to look beyond Naas in senior hurling decider

Celbridge up against it in Sunday's final

Kildare GAA: Hard to look beyond Naas in senior hurling decider

Naas James Burke is out in front of Celbridge Aaron Doran to win procession when the sides met earlier in the season. Photo: Sean Brilly

Sunday's UPMC Hospital, senior hurling championship decider is a final that most would have predicted prior to the start of this season's club hurling main event.
Naas, looking to make it three senior titles in a row, a feat that has not been achieved since Celbridge did it last in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Naas did achieve back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002, and have been in four of the last five finals, winning two, while Celbridge have played in eight finals since 2009, winning no less than six, so their record is certainly impressive.
There is no doubt that Naas have been the most impressive side to date in 2021, as they were the previous year also, and are installed as hot favourites to make it three in a row.
That though, is something far from being on the mind of their manager, Tom Mullally, just like his opposite from Celbridge, Patrick O'Flynn, a Kilkenny native and ironically both are heavily involved with Carlow hurling, Tom, being the Carlow senior manager while Patrick is the U20 manager, having just been reappointed for a further two years in that role.
Naas, and Kildare captain, Brian Byrne, while acknowledging that Naas are enjoying a great season and are now in their fifth hurling final in six years is quick to say “we can't keep looking back at the past, or indeed too far in the future, but we have just got to focus on the next game and right now that is this Sunday and that is what we have our mind fitted to.”

Brian is, of course, a dual star, and will aiming to make it a very unique double when he leads Naas hurlers out, hoping to make it football and hurling championship success on the double, which would be some achievement.

Asked about the fact that Naas are overwhelming favourites manager Mullally says “the only people who make Naas overwhelming favourites are people outside of Naas, we, in Naas, don't look on it like that and while the last time we played Celbridge they were down some five or six players, maybe a bit of shadow boxing but we know the challenge that is ahead of us, we know if we can get to the starting line , it will give us a 50/50 chance but no more than that; we have the 2021 county final ahead of us; we are one of two teams that can win it, these are the facts, past form won't count for a thing; favourites or not favourites I don't think it is relevant to be honest.”
The manager admitted that “we have been lucky in the fact that we have been injury free; we are happy with our form and looking forward to Sunday.”
Captain Byrne who has enjoyed incredible success with both Naas and Kildare in recent times, is eagerly looking forward to the final, “we have all our work done, weather-wise we can do nothing about that, it will be the same for both teams.” Asked if Naas can win he quickly replies “I wouldn't be here if I did not think we could win, nor would anyone else.

Meanwhile Celbridge manager Patrick O'Flynn says that making it to the final was his and the team's number one objective since the start of the year, “we have not been in the final now for a few years, very disappointing the last two years so delighted to be in the final and that is where a club like Celbridge should be.”
We didn't have had the greatest leagues, admits team captain Pa Curtin, lost our two games, the Naas game was cancelled but we then concentrated on the championship; we had a few injuries early on, hadn't always got the XV on the pitch we wanted and of course we were beaten by the better team on day.”
The manager admitted that losing the semi final last year was a blow, “but we are an honest bunch of lads, there is a great family feel to the club, very much what you get in a country club, regardless of whether it is football, hurling ladies football, it does not matter, all players are treated equally, our players don't suffer fools gladly, there is a great drive amongst them to atone for last year to get to the county final.”
Asked about the standard of hurling in Kildare, Patrick quickly asks the question “tell me any club in the entire country that will line out with six better forwards than Naas on Sunday but  “we are fit, bar the two long term injuries to Niall Ó Muineacháin and Sean O'Sullivan, everyone else is ok, Gerry (Keegan) finger has recovered and hopefully he can get through the sixty minutes.”
Not unlike their opposition on Sunday Patrick Curtin, while acknowledging that Naas are justified favourites but it is not something he, or Celbridge, worry about.
“We wouldn't really pay much attention to that fact, from our point view this is all about getting ourselves right, getting our preparation right and while we played Naas earlier in the year and they taught us a bit of a lesson, but overall who is or isn't favourties, not really a factor from our point of view.
“At the end of the day” adds Pa “If we don't turn up there is only going to be one result, so we have to focus on our own performance, play to the maximum of our ability, we are under no illusions, Naas are chasing history on Sunday, we have to ensure we are one hundred percent focused on the job in hand and at the end of the day if we perform to our ability we have confidence in our players.”
And like his Naas counterpart, Pa Curtin when asked if Celbridge can win the title replies “very much so, we have no right to be there if we don't believe we are going to win it, I believe there is enough experience, enough youth in this team to give it a right go, and I know if we give it our all, everything we have, we will be in with a very good shout on the day.”

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