Shortly after they defeated Taghmon Camross in the Leinster JHC semi-final the Na Fianna joint manager Ger Slevin spoke about how they will go into the final with “no fear” ACCORDING TO JIMMY GEOGHEGAN.
He knew at that stage that Dunnamaggin were the opponents so it came as a significant mission statement to announce that Na Fianna would have “no fear” taking on a team from Kilkenny in a Leinster hurling final.
The reality, however, is that the odds are stacked against them and Dunnamaggin look set to win.
Yet there’s always hope.
Sean Boylan, when he was in his early days as Meath manager, used to seek to bolster his troops by telling them that opponents - no matter how much they are lauded - “eat the same potatoes as we do” or words to that effect.
He was, of course, seeking the diminish any psychological barrier so that when Meath took on opponents such as Dublin and Kerry they weren’t beaten before the ball was thrown in.
Arguably that will be one of the most important roles for the Na Fianna joint-managers Slevin and Brendan Flynn as well as their assistants, John McCloskey, Mark Burke, Niall Burke and Diarmuid Fagan ahead of Saturday’s final.
They will be seeking to ensure that when the Na Fianna players take the field for Saturday’s clash they will firmly believe they can do the business; that they can defeat Dunnamaggin and continue this great journey they are on. That they will be ready.
Have they a chance?
Of course they have if only because Dunnamaggin will be favourites, allowing Na Fianna players to go into the game free from the heavy, debilitating burden of expectation.
There is a belief among the Na Fianna camp that the team is playing as well now as it ever did at any stage of what has turned out to be a memorable 2018.
At the start of the year Na Fianna had set out to win the Meath IHC.
The management put the team through a rigorous, demanding training regime. The players responded. The stamina was put in the legs and the hard work paid dividends.
The IHC title was secured with the 2-19 to 1-9 victory over Gaeil Colmcille in the final every bit as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests. The primary task was completed.
They embarked on a Leinster campaign with an attitude that went something like this: ‘We’ll go out do our best and see what happens.’ This was bonus territory.
Victory over Westmeath side Crookedwood was followed by that memorable encounter with Wexford side Taghmon Camross in the last four.
Defeat should have been Na Fianna’s fate in that contest yet they refused to give up - and were rewarded for their tenacity with a morale-enhancing, spirit-boosting victory.
One of the foundation stones of Na Fianna’s success has been a willingness to work and battle and graft until the end - and it paid off most handsomely against the Wexford side.
Another example of the spirit in the side was also reflected in the way goalkeeper Eoin Reilly picked up what seemed a serious looking eye injury in the game against Crookedwood. Yet he was back manning his post for the visit of Taghmon Camross. He made some important saves too.
Reilly was needed and he answered the call. He’ll be needed again on Saturday when his reflexes are sure to be severely tested. Na Fianna don’t have deep resources and one or two injuries can really scupper their plans.
Defensively Na Fianna were exposed a number of times against Taghmon Camross; they were under intense pressure for sustained spells, but they stayed disciplined with Evan Mullally and Daniel Gleeson forming a strong central spine.
They will need to be strong and disciplined again if they are to withstand the Dunnamaggin challenge on Saturday; a challenge that will be led by the legendary Kilkenny full-back Noel Hickey
In Ethan Devine and Barry Slevin, Na Fianna have a very strong midfield combination while in attack the full-forward line of Sean Martin, Mark Slevin and Ronan Byrne can finish off chances.
Another big challenge for Na Fianna is ensuring that they can win enough ball around the middle of the field; the often referred to ‘dirty ball’ so that they supply their forwards with enough ammunition to shot out Dunnamaggin’s lights.
The Meath side struggled to get that precious possession for lengthy spells against Taghmon Camross and it almost derailed their challenge. They cannot afford to let Dunnamaggin get a foothold at any stage.
It’s a big ask, of course, for Na Fianna and they will give it everything but it may just prove a step too far this time.