Darren O’Reilly in action in Ballyboden St Enda’s AFL1 final against St Vincent’s. Picture: John Kirwan

AFL1 preview

BALLYBODEN ST ENDA’S face a daunting early season in AFL1 having drawn three of the other big guns in their opening three fixtures.

Boden travel to Ballymun Kickhams for their opening game on Sunday morning before facing Na Fianna and reigning championship holders Kilmacud Crokes over the coming few weeks.

The team returned to training later than usual this year, too, which may present a further challenge.

They faced St Vincent’s in a delayed league final very late into 2018 and so the players were given additional time off to recover and returned to training in the middle of January.

The club, however, see the three challenging early fixtures as the perfect championship warm up.

“Obviously the championship is the main thing,” Boden manager and former Kildare lynchpin Anthony Rainbow told the Dublin Gazette.

“We had a similar start last year with some tough fixtures. Ballymun are one of the best football teams in Dublin, no questions, and it’s a tough draw to be traveling up there first. They’re really hard to beat up in Ballymun.”

Ballyboden are a settled side, however, and should be able to get up to speed quickly. “We’re playing with pretty much the same panel as last year, aside from a couple of injuries in the pre-season, and things are going well,” Rainbow said. “We couldn’t ask for three better games to start.

“The thing about big games is they bring confidence and give you a real challenge early on.

“We’ve earmarked these first three for preparation for the championship, which is the ultimate goal. We’ll be working on our strategy, how we approach the games, and learning from playing some really top class opposition.

“We’ve only been back a few weeks but things are going really well, and we’re looking forward to getting out on the pitch.”

Like many of the major club sides in the AFL1, Ballyboden can expect to be missing a few players as the season goes on, with plenty of their senior panel, including Michael Darragh MacAuley and Colm Basquel, expected to spend much of the season away with the county team.

They have an in-depth crew, however, and so should be well-placed to cope with the absences.

The sizeable Firhouse Road club overcame the loss of key players last season in making a strange late-season final, in which they were beaten 0-18 to 3-4 by perennial powerhouse St Vincent’s.

They previously won the AFL1 title in 2016, and also won the Dublin Senior Championship in 2015 and the following All Ireland senior club title in 2016.