THREE times finalists in the last seven years, Rhode begin their quest for a first Leinster Club Senior Football Championship title this Sunday when they take on Louth champions St Patrick’s in O’Connor Park.
Under the management of Gerry Hickey, Rhode were rarely tested in Offaly this year despite the fact that they are going through a transitional period.
The team is backboned by a number of Under 21s who have stepped up to the mark this year. Anton Sullivan, Eoin Rigney, Paul McPadden, James McPadden and All Ireland Colleges winning captain Conor McNamee have all played key roles as the age profile of the team has continued to fall.
Mixed in with that youth is the considerable experience of players such as Brian Darby, Shane Sullivan, Ciaran Heavey, Mark Dunne, Pascal Kellaghan, Pauric Sullivan, Alan McNamee, Eoghan Byrne and captain Niall McNamee and Rhode have a formidable mix of talent that should serve them well in the Leinster campaign.
For a small village in Offaly, the club has punched far above its weight in Leinster.
They reached the final in 2006, 2008 and 2010 only for their hopes to be dashed on each occasion.
In 2006 they lost to Moorefield while in both 2008 and 2010 it was Dublin giants Kilmacud Crokes who blocked their way. Given that Rhode have reached the final every second year since 2006, the signs are good that they will make the decider again.
Leading from the front, captain Niall McNamee has again been the leader up front for Rhode. On his day he is as good as they come and a lot will depend on how he performs.
In Offaly this year they came out of their group with four wins from four and a score difference of plus 42.
Ballycumber were dispatched in the quarter-final and while Tullamore made a fight of it in the semi-final, Rhode cruised through by 0-17 to 2-7.
They had even more to spare in the final overcoming Clara by 0-16 to 1-6 as they dominated the second-half restricting their opponents to just a single point.
While their scores have been impressive, the fact that they have not found the net in the last two games is a minor area of concern and one they will hope to put right this Sunday.
While Rhode go in as favourites, St Patrick’s will pose a formidable obstacle.
This will be St Patrick’s fifth Leinster campaign in total. Their record shows that so far they have won just one game but that in itself is misleading.
They retained the Louth title this year and they will be buoyed by their performance in the Leinster Championship last year where they pushed a strong Portlaoise side all the way to extra-time before losing out by a single point.
In 2003 they recorded their only win to date when they beat Westmeath side The Downs only to lose to eventual winners St Brigid’s.
In between they suffered defeats to Allenwood and Portlaoise again but this year they are a side determined to make the breakthrough.
It should be an intriguing game in O’Connor Park but on home soil and with their experience in the competition, Rhode will be a hard team to beat.
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