By Damian Dolan
Junior bridesmaids in recent years, Dulwich Harps will be hoping that 2019 is finally the year they get to be the bride.
Dulwich face Wandsworth in Sunday’s Toureen JFC Final at McGovern Park (1:30pm).
Beaten in the final by Thomas McCurtains in 2017 (by a solitary point) and last year by Tir Chonaill Gaels by just two points, if Dulwich do prevail on Sunday no one can say they haven’t paid their dues.
They also lost to St Joseph’s in the 2009 final.
This time around is different though. Dulwich have been the pundits’ favourites for the title from the outset. And to all intense and purposes, this should be Dulwich’s time.
Enda Tuohy’s side have already scooped the McArdle and Mallarkey cups this year, as well as reaching the Division 2 league final.
The latter saw them give Round Towers – senior semi-finalists in 2018 and 2017 – a real run for their money.
They also have experience to burn. The likes of goalkeeper and captain Niall Russell, the versatile James McDermott, Ronan Devlin, Damian Rogers, Timithy Russell, Sean Lavery, influential London midfielder Michael Clarke, Daniel Lynch and forwards Darren White, Ciaran Stone and Ryan Brolly have all been here before. Twice to be precise.
And while they may carry the baggage of losing the last two county finals, they’ve discovered a knack of winning finals of late.
After losing three finals in 2017 – all at the hands of TCG – Harps now know how to get the job done.
Their passage through the group was a winning, if unspectacular one. St Kiernans beaten by four points and Sunday’s opponents by two points, before Brothers Pearse handed them a walkover to guarantee Dulwich top spot.
They then saw off Tara in the semi-finals by 1-12 to 1-5. Dulwich led by four at the break and a fine individual goal from Kiernan McLoughlin saw them home.
The contrast with their opponents, Wandsworth Gaels, on Sunday couldn’t be greater – a club in just its second year of competition and playing in its first county final. Or any final for that matter.
The club has come a long way, even since last year’s virgin steps into the junior championship.
In 2018, they overcame St Clarets in a play-off to reach the semi-finals, only to be beaten out of the gate by Tir Chonaill Gaels by 32 points no less.
Twelve months on, their semi-final experience this time around could not have been in greater contrast. On a balmy Ruislip Sunday evening, Gareth Halpin’s Wandsworth defeated Clarets by 3-9 to 0-15.
Goalkeeper Graham Flynn produced an inspired display with the goals coming from Philly Bell, Dwaine McVey and Des McTiernan.
Wandsworth, however, won’t want Flynn to be as busy against Dulwich. If he is, Harps have the forwards who can turn chances into goals.
Brendan O’Shea was a colossus in midfield, winning plenty of ball, and Wandsworth will look to him again to win them kick-out possession.
How Dulwich cope with O’Shea will be fascinating, and Clarke could be the man assigned to nullify the threat.
Clarke, who was excellent against Galway in the Connacht quarter-final, hasn’t featured yet for Dulwich in the junior championship.
But he could be back for Sunday’s final and if he is, he will be a serious addition to the Harps team.
If Clarke is the standout player on the Dulwich team, then Wandsworth’s key man is Horan.
The former TCG forward brings a real touch of quality to this Wandsworth team – his 0-6 (2f) against Clarets in the semi was priceless, and some of his scores oozed class.
When the sides met in this year’s group stage, only two points separated them. Dulwich winning by 0-12 to 0-10.
Clarke and Stone were both absent and but for two excellent goal-line clearances by Rogers, Dulwich could have been further than 0-4 to 0-1 behind.
With five minutes left to play, Wandsworth saw a 30-metre free to level the game come back off the post. Dulwich broke and won a free which Niall Russell tapped over.
It could be that close again on Sunday.
Contrast that with the sides meeting in last year’s group stage – a game Dulwich won by 11 points.
Wandsworth have come a long way in a short space of time and the learning curve has been a steep one on occasions. They have nothing to lose on Sunday, and everything to gain.