SURPRISINGLY enough for a club who have so often challenged at the business end of the Kildare Senior Football Championship over the last two decades, Sarsfields’ recent record outside of the county isn’t exactly stellar. Since beating Louth champions Mattock Rangers in the 2005 semi-final, Sarsfields have won just one Leinster Championship game, in 2012, and have lost four of their last five games in the competition. The club have only scored more than one goal in a game in the competition on two occasions and haven’t done that since 1993. However, it’s not all bad and the club had some great wins in the competition as well. One of those came in 1994 against the side they will play on Sunday, Éire Óg of Carlow, when they were looking for third Leinster title in a row. Sarsfields reached the Leinster final in 1999 and 2005, with the defeat against Kilmacud Crokes in 2005 particularly hard to take. There was also the famous trilogy of games against Na Fianna in the 2001 semi-final following the controversy of the Dublin side using too many substitutes in the second of those games.
Sarsfields’ record in the competition stands at P24 W10 D3 L11 and we’ve delved into the archives to go have a look at each of those games.
The Sarsfields team that won the three-in-a-row in the early 1950s is often fondly remembered but what is sometimes forgotten is that it was also the club’s last senior title for a remarkable 30 years. The 60s and 70s were a barren wasteland for Sarsfields but things picked up in the 1980s.
After beating a youthful St Laurences side in the Kildare final, Sarsfields made the trip to take on Wicklow champions Baltinglass. Joe Murphy scored both goals in a 2-12 to 1-6 win as a Sarsfields team containing the likes of Kevin ‘Spike’ Nolan, John Crofton, Steve Kinneavy, Des Bergin, John Courtney, Tom Shaw, Ray O’Sullivan and Shay Fahy won the club’s first ever Leinster game.
That set up a semi-final against Portlaoise in Dr. Cullen Park and although a second half Shay Fahy penalty helped Sarsfields pull level in the second half, Portlaoise pulled away in the second half and eventually won 1-11 to 1-6. Portlaoise went on to beat Ballymun Kickhams in the final.
After seeing off the Jack O’Shea inspired Leixlip in the Kildare final, Sarsfields faced Dublin champion Scoil Uí Chonaill in O’Toole Park in the Leinster quarter-final. With Dermot Earley snr controlling midfield, Sarsfields used a strong wind to move into 0-9 to 0-4 lead by half-time. Crucially, they kicked the first points against the wind in the second half through Earley and John Courtney and eventually won 0-12 to 1-8.
It was a low scoring affair against Portlaoise in the semi-final but it was the Laois champions who prevailed to reach their third successive Leinster final. Noel McHugh, part of the current Sarsfields team back room, was in goal but there were only three first half points in Dr Cullen Park, Sarsfields lead 0-2 to 0-1. McHugh was beaten early in the second by Tom Prendergast and that goal seperated the sides going into the final quarter and although Earley and John Crofton kicked the last two points of the game, Sarsfields couldn’t find an equaliser and Portlaoise held for a 1-3 to 0-5 win before losing to Ferbane in the final.
The 90’s saw Clane, Sarsfields and Round Towers battle it out to be the top dogs in Kildare and 1993 was a particularly hotly contested year with Sarsfields eventually beating three-in-a-row chasing Clane after extra time in a replay.
That set up a Leinster quarter-final against Wicklow champions Baltinglass. The Kevin O’Brien led side were just coming to the end of their golden era and they had just won their seventh of what be eight Wicklow championships in a row, as well as winning an All-Ireland title in 1989 and losing a Leinster Final in 1990. Sarsfields finished the first game with 13 men following the first half sending off of Bill Sex and John Crofton later in the game but a last gasp free from Niall Buckley earned a 1-8 apiece draw, Niall Timmons with a first half goal for Sarsfields.
Kevin O’Brien scored Baltinglass’ goal in the drawn game and he went on to score two more inside the opening 11 minutes in the replay at St Conleths Park. Brian Nolan scored a pair of goals himself as the game wore on but Baltinglass recorded a 2-9 to 2-5 win before losing to Erins Isle in the semi-final.
The first time that Sarsfields retained the Kildare in over 40 years earned them a shot against Sunday’s opponents, Éire Óg, who at the time had won the previous two Leinster titles and would go on to win in ‘95,’96 and ‘98. However, in 1994 they came up against a very good Sarsfields side.
Just as in Sarsfields’ first Leinster game in the previous year, Niall Buckley stepped up to kick a late equalising score in their first provincial game, Kevin Horgan scoring 1-1 in St Conleths Park in a 1-10 apiece draw. Buckley was to the forefront again in the replay and he scored seven frees as Sarsfields dethroned the Leinster champions by 0-12 to 0-9 in a game played in pouring rain.
However, despite that seismic victory, Sarsfields bowed out in the next game, losing 0-13 to 0-8 against Graham Geraghty’s Seneschalstown in St Conleths Park. The Meath side went on to reach the final but lost by a point to Kilmacud Crokes.
Sarsfields rounded off the 90s by convincingly beating Allenwood in the Kildare final but they made a stuttering start to their Leinster campaign. Although their opponents, O’Hanrahans, had beaten Leinster champions Éire Óg in the Carlow final, Sarsfields were still expected to cruise through the first round in Newbridge but in the end only had a point to spare, 1-11 to 0-13. Things could have been worse, Niall Buckley was sent off in the second half and the Carlow side wasted a number of chances to go ahead as they chased the game in the final quarter but Sarsfields just about held on.
After that scare, Sarsfields were much improved in the quarter final. Brian Moylan scored the goal and Buckley and Padraig Brennan scored a combined total of nine points as Sarsfields brushed aside St Peters, Dunboyne by 1-16 to 0-6 in St Conleths Park.
Buckley was playing some of the best football of his career around his time and he was in imperious form in the semi-final against the Wexford champions Killanerin. He scored four points in St Conleths as Sarsfields comfortably eased past a team containing a very young Mattie Forde by 0-11 to 0-5 to reach their first ever Leinster final.
Dublin champions Na Fianna were the opponents for the final played in Pairc Tailteann, Navan and on the day they proved to be much the better team. A side containing future Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney dominated the majority of the game and despite Brennan’s five points, Sarsfields could have few complaints about the 1-11 to 0-8 result.
2001 saw the first ever Newbridge derby in the Kildare SFC final with Sarsfields getting one over their up and coming rivals Moorefield.
It would go on to be possibly the most controversial Leinster campaigns of recent times but it started in fine style for Sarsfields when they beat reigning Leinster champions O’Hanrahans. Sash’s goose looked cooked when they trailed 0-6 to 0-4 with only minutes left on the clock but late scores from Martin Dunne, Dermot Earley and then an injury time winner by Stuart McKenzie-Smith sealed a 0-7 to 0-6 win in Dr Cullen Park.
That set up one the of the remarkable trilogy of games in the competition’s history when Sarsfields were pitted once against Na Fianna. The first game was an absolute thriller in Navan. David Earley scored a first half goal for Sarsfields but Na Fianna struck back with two of their own in the second half and seemed set for victory until a late Padraig Brennan free earned Sarsfields a 1-13 to 2-10 draw.
The replay proved much more one sided and with Jason Sherlock scoring 2-3 the Dubs raced to a 3-11 to 1-8 win in Navan. However, the drama came after the final whistle when it emerged that when Na Fianna introduced Joe Hagan in injury time they had gone over their allowed number of substitutes. Under GAA rules it could have cost their place in the final but Sarsfields wanted the game settled on the field and agreed to a replay.
Although the first of the trilogy was a classic, this second replay was even better. After his 2-3 salvo in the second game, Jason Sherlock was completely shut out of the second replay as Martin Dunne held him scoreless.
A first half goal from McKenzie-Smith helped Sarsfields into a 1-9 to 1-5 half time but it looked like the game had turned against them midway through the second half when corner back Nigel Campbell was sent off. However, this was one of Dermot Earley’s greatest displays in a Sarsfields jersey and it looked like he crowned his performance with a winning point in injury time from a long range free but much to Sarsfields’ disgust the referee allowed play to restart and Senan Connell managed an equaliser. The Dubs went on to outscore Sarsfields 0-5 to 0-2 in the first half of extra time on the way to a 2-17 to 1-18 win.
Sarsfields next Leinster excursion came after a replay win over St Laurences in the Kildare final. Sunday’s opponents Éire Óg were first up in Leinster but by then were a pale shadow of the team that dominated Leinster in the 90s and Sarsfields were able to pull away by scoring the last five points of the game in Dr Cullen Park to record a 1-12 to 0-8 win, Gary White with the first half goal.
Gavin Slicker, Gary White, Dermot Earley and Morgan O’Sullivan were all in fine form as Sarsfields held off a determined challenge from Louth champions Mattock Rangers in Navan to win by 0-15 to 0-10 and reach a second final in the club’s history.
Again, for Sarsfields it was the Dublin champions waiting for them in the Leinster final, this time Kilmacud Crokes. The game in Navan proved to the one that away for Sarsfields. They missed countless chances in the first half and two injury time points by Crokes stretched their lead to five by the half time break, 0-8 to 0-3. The half time introduction of Padraig Brennan gave Sarsfields fresh impetus. It took 22 second half minutes but Sarsfields scored the first four points in the second half, three from Brennan, to leave just a point between the teams in the final stages but Crokes were able to find another gear and eventually won 0-10 to 0-9.
Five players – Martin McIntyre, Niall Hedderman, Liam Sex, Dermot Earley and Padraig Brennan played in the Leinster finals in 1999 and 2005 but that run to the final in ‘05 proved to be the last great Leinster campaign for Sarsfields.
After beating Carbury in the Kildare final, Sarsfields started their 2012 Leinster campaign by seeing off Louth champions St Patricks. Sarsfields flew into a 0-7 to 0-1 lead and remained in charge throughout, a 55th minute Robbie Confrey goal sealing a 1-12 to 2-6 win in St Conleths Park.
Ballymun Kickhams, managed by current Celbridge manager Paul Curran, were the semi-final opponents but it was a game that Sarsfields never looked like winning thanks to failing to convert their chances to scores and after trailing 0-5 to 0-2 at half time, Ted Furman’s 47th minute eased the Dubs to a 1-8 to 0-5 win.
Sarsfields beat Athy in a thrilling Kildare final and seemed well placed to give Leinster a good go but faced a very difficult game for their first assignment – away to Portlaoise. Things got even more difficult for John Crofton’s team when Steven Lawlor was very harshly sent off in the first half. However, they stuck to their task and after a brilliant performances, two Ray Cahill frees brought them level late in the game before Brian Smith came forward to break their hearts with a 59th minute winning point in a 2-5 to 0-10 win.
Perhaps it was owing to the emotion of their first county final win over neighbours Moorefield since 2001 or maybe it was the month between the Kildare final and their first Leinster game but Sarsfields’ 2016 Leinster campaign proved to be their most disappointing. Sarsfields were poor in the first half against a very ordinary Sean O’Mahoneys team from Louth, and trailed 0-4 to 0-2 at half time. Things got worse when they conceded a couple of early scores in the second half and then Stephen Fisher’s goal put the men from Wee County seven points clear. Gary White’s dismissal 15 minutes from the end should have been the end of Sarsfields’ challenge but instead prompted their best form of the game. They scored six points in a row and looked set to complete a remarkable comeback but O’Mahoneys fought back to score the last two points of the game in injury time in a 1-8 to 0-8 win. Definitely a game that got away from Sarsfields and they have had to wait three years for a chance to put that right but they finally get that chance on Sunday.