As Arles-Kilcruise captain, should the bookies be wrong and there is an upset in this weekend’s final, Chris Conway will have the honour of lifting the Jack Delaney Cup.
See this week’s Leinster Express for full in depth preview of this Sunday’s game.
If that comes to pass, as he sincerely hopes it does, you get the feeling the first thing he will do is hand it over to his team mates. They are a loyal, close group this Arles-Kilcruise team, and everything they have achieved to date has been borne out of a communal will to be the best.
For many other clubs in the county, they look at Arles-Kilcruise and wonder why they can’t do what they do. Working with one of the smallest panels in the county, they shouldn’t keep getting to county finals, and yet here they are again. They have limited resources, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because they have what is important. Each other.
As Chris Conway prepares for his fourth final in ten years, the desire to bring the success all their hard work has gone towards burns as strongly as ever. “We have a talented group here, and hopefully they get their just rewards. We are a small area, and a small knit group, and that has helped over the years to keep us together, and to pull together in tight matches.
“Each one of us is as important as the other, and there has been no deviance on that down through the years.”
Why they can pull together when so many other clubs can’t is what confounds many about Arles-Kilcruise, but Conway feels it is on the club’s DNA, ever since the old Arles club split almost 20 years ago. “It goes back to our history and the split in the mid-nineties. There was a group of players in the club denied playing football in 1994 by the then county board.
“There was no championship played in Arles in 1994, but Larry Wall took that team and played over 30 practice matches that year, not many people know that. A number of that team are still playing, and three of them are selectors with Jim Maguire, and that spirit and never-say-die attitude is reflected in our performances to a certain extent.”
That attitude which has served them so well will have to serve them again this Sunday. They have consistently been the only team in the county to some close to beating Portlaoise in the championship. Where other teams despair at playing them, Arles-Kilcruise seem to relish it, and for their captain, it’s all about the mindset. “They are the same as us, a talented bunch of players. There is a possible element (of defeatism) in other clubs when they play Portlaoise, but we don’t entertain anything like that, of being overawed or thinking we are incapable of beating them. It’s about getting your own performance right.
“When you look at Portlaoise, you can’t pinpoint two or three players to nullify because they are all good footblallers. The way we look at it, if we get our performance right and get the maximum out of ourselves, then hopefully that will be enough.
“Whatever chance you have, you have no chance if you don’t perform yourself, regardless of how the oppostion plays, you won’t win. We will just be looking for a good performance form ourselves and the result will look after itself.”
Days like these have been regular occurences for Arles-Kilcruise over the last decade, but it may not always be the way. There can be no denying they are still reliant on a number fo players on the wrong side of thirty, and for the current incarnation of their senior time, chances may be running out.
Conway is trying not to think like that, but rather focussing on winning a second title to back up their breakthrough victory in 2003. “I don’t think that is driving us on, when we won one in 2003 people said we were lucky. In 2006 we let a great chance slip in the semi-final, and over the last three years we have been the closest team to Portlaoise.
“During the course of our county finals we have felt we have gotten close to winning, and we believe we are getting closer, and we now we just need to win a second championship.”
While the team has relied on some of their stalwarts this year, a tumultuous SFC campaign has given others the opportunity to step into the linlelight from time to time. Between injuries and everything else, Conway was delighted that some of the unheralded players could show what they are capable of. “We have been lucky in that sense that lads have stepped up to the mark. Our numbers are getting smaller, but as a team we are getting stronger. Now we have the personnel to come and change games, where previously we might not have been able to cope.”
They will need all of their panel again on Sunday for their latest push for glory. Taking on the might of a six-in-a-row chasing Portlaoise, it’s fair to say the odds are well and truly stacked against Arles-Kilcruise. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.