The meeting of former All-Ireland champions Ballyboden St. Enda’s and Kilcoo of Down may just be the most intriguing fixture in the club calendar this weekend.
While it was just a few years ago that the Dublin champions picked up a maiden All-Ireland title, this is just their second foray into the final four of the All-Ireland club series.
Kilcoo, meanwhile, collected their first-ever Ulster club championship last month having lost three finals from six campaigns in the seven previous seasons.
Given their recent track record, it’s clear this first-ever meeting of the sides is full of All-Ireland final pedigree, however, just one will make it to the decider.
Having reached the pinnacle before, Ballyboden go into the game as favourites. While many paint the picture of a target on the backs of the former champions, Shane Clayton describes that narrative as “outside noise”.
The versatile defender claims that the pressure is off Ballyboden as their previous All-Ireland experience has made them more relaxed going into games.
“We know that’s kind of the outside noise, we are aware of that, but it doesn’t add any extra pressure on us. Our main goal at the start of the year was to win the Dublin championship and we’ve never looked past that because of how tough Dublin is to win.
“As soon as we won that, that was the monkey off our back, there was no pressure going into the rest of the games. We are able to enjoy this one a little more. A couple of years ago after we won it, it was so new to us, we didn’t know what to expect.
“This time, we were able to relax more and actually enjoy these couple of games. I think we’ve done that and you can kind of see through the play that it’s been more expansive. We feel like we have a better togetherness and better culture in the team, and that’s helped us.”
Don’t get it twisted, however, their relaxed nature hasn’t exactly transformed into what you would call relaxed games.
The Dublin champions have been pushed every step of the way en route to Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final. No more so than in their recent Leinster final when a couple of late, late scores from Warren Egan and Ryan Basquel helped sneak them over the line against Carlow’s Eire Og.
Clayton struggles to explain where the belief that they can close out tight games comes from. What he does know though is that both the management and the players of Ballyboden have a never-say-die attitude.
“I don’t even know how we practice that, I don’t know where the belief comes from. In the last couple of years, we feel like when it gets down to five or ten minutes to go and we’re within a goal, we feel like we have enough that we can punch through.
“We’ve done that in the Dublin championship, we did it against Newtown and the last day against Eire Og. I don’t know if it’s something you can teach, but I know we’ve been able to dig it out and I know that’s down to the management and players for having that belief and never-say-die attitude.”
Again, that never-say-die attitude doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Clayton and his teammates have a formidable threat in front of them in the shape of Kilcoo.
A team that Clayton describes as “lovely to watch”.
“They’re very good, very defensive with a great counter-attacking gameplan and a lot of athletic players across the middle. A few of the footballers up front are lovely, lovely footballers, I have seen a few of their games on TV so you’re obviously watching it as a fan when they’re on and you can just see they’re not your typical northern footballers.
“They are great to watch, kicking lovely scores and hand passing and kick passing is lovely to watch. Obviously, it is their first Ulster title but when they’ve been on their runs over the last couple of years they haven’t come up against any slouches against the likes of Crossmaglen and Slaughtneil but we know how good they are.”
Either way, it will be a momentous day in Breffni Park on Saturday for whoever wins.
Whilst many will be pulling for Kilcoo given their status as a small rural club. Ballyboden are not devoid of community spirit with Clayton claiming that a second All-Ireland final appearance would be very special for all involved in the club and community.
“This is only the second time our footballers have won Leinster. I know even the hurlers haven’t done it. It’s brand new for the club. We are a young club at the end of the day, its only 50 years, so it’s all very special.
“I know people outside Ballyboden see the big numbers involved but there is still that centre and community spirit within the team and the club. It’s always the main people that are involved, and the same faces you see all the time, so it’s definitely like a family affair, even though it might not look it from the outside.”