Martin's favourites for football honours
St James' have changed the whole dynamic of Wexford Senior football in qualifying for their first-ever final.
In the process they have set up an intriguing Tom Doyle Supplies-sponsored clash with St. Martin's at Innovate Wexford Park this Saturday (4 p.m.) - a final that is catching the imagination of the county.
It's a unique final in many ways. While St. James' are seeking their first Senior title, their opponents, St. Martin's, are still on course to complete the Senior double, and the last team to achieve this was their neighbours, St. Anne's.
St. Martin's desire to achieve that double remains undiminished. They are now tantalisingly on the cusp of putting it together, as they qualified for the hurling equivalent on Sunday when they demolished Glynn-Barntown, showing the hunger, composure and skill levels that have seen them leave such an imprint on both codes this season.
St. James' journey in this year's campaign has been one of the championship's most impressive stories, but they are by no means finished as they continue to bring more intensity to their play with each passing game.
This was particularly evident in their semi-final replay victory over Shelmaliers where, despite being reduced to 14 players for the closing 25 minutes, they still managed to control and dominate this clash with a passion and skill level that helped them to cultivate a victory and earn a place in the final for the first time.
Whatever about making history, St. James' will enjoy their day in the sun, as the long wait for a final appearance is over. For some time I haven't seen such a rapid rise as this St. James' outfit brought to Senior football this year.
Having survived a drama-filled intermediate final with Glynn-Barntown last year, they only emerged from their group into the knockout stages by a mere point on scoring difference. But they reacted positively to this close call, dethroning reigning champions, St. Anne's, in the quarter-final, before ousting out of the more consistent sides of recent campaigns, Shelmaliers, in the semi-final, albeit after a replay.
One cannot deflect too far away from the achievements of St. Martin's this year either. While Saturday's opponents are also seeking a double, as they are through to the Intermediate 'A' hurling decider, St. Martin's are remaining composed as they now enter the business end, and being just two games away from what would be a remarkable double for this small south Wexford parish.
There was a time in this campaign where one felt that to achieve it was becoming an almost impossible task, as the fixtures came thick and fast in both codes. But one would have to praise the character shown by St. Martin's, particularly it being at Senior level.
The spirit of their opponents remains strong too, with St. James' also striving to make the breakthrough in hurling. Incidentally, these same clubs met in the county Junior 'B' final on Saturday week with the Martin's emerging victorious.
These are two sides who give their all but it does remain to be seen how both come out of last weekend's games, St. James' in football, and St. Martin's in hurling. The energy St. James' expended in achieving victory having been reduced to 14 players for the closing 25 minutes was there for all to see. St. Martin's on the other hand cruised through their hurling semi-final but both sides will have cut their cloth accordingly.
Once Saturday afternoon arrives, forget about what has happened over recent weeks and months, including St. Martin's comfortable win when the teams met in the group stages. This will be a whole new ball game as both sides will be starting from scratch. It's never great going into any game as favourites, particularly a final, but St. Martin's given their experience at this level in both codes will carry that mantle.
Just twelve months back, St. James' were thrilled to be part of Senior club football having won the Intermediate title, so few would have expected that such a short journey down the road they could be challenging for the blue riband of Wexford football.
Memories flood back to that Intermediate final and the courage shown when battling back with all looking lost. It's this passion and commitment that has once again lifted them to within 60 minutes of the coveted Senior crown.
But St. Martin's will box clever. Everyone understands their style which is quite simple, getting their big name players on as much ball as possible. Without this they can struggle but it has stood to them thus far.
Rest assured one can expect to see a huge midfield duel involving Daithí Waters and Matthew O'Hanlon. What a midfield pairing they would provide David Power if they were available to the county's Senior football set-up. The outcome of this duel could have a huge impact on the eventual outcome. These two towering midfielders will provide a battle that could light up this final.
Rest assured there will be some other interesting players on view. Ciarán Lyng is a potential match-winner for his side. One of the shrewdest forwards in the game, he carries this ability also onto the hurling pitch, and he is sure to command undivided attention as anything else could lead to him whitewashing the opposition.
St. Martin's have other players of real quality in Willie Devereux, Aaron Maddock, Jack O'Connor, Jake Firman, Jamie Carty and Ciarán Redmond who will take some watching.
But like any side, St. James' also have their players of quality. No team qualifies for this stage of the title race without carrying players of quality and skill, and St. James' have such players in their side.
Rest assured one will see a big game from Graeme Molloy, who is playing some wonderful football at the moment, and will give those around him the inspiration necessary for such an occasion. They also have rock-solid defenders in Jason Barron, Robbie Barron and Greg Doyle. But it's at midfield where this game could very well be decided, as should veteran Brendan Doyle give his partner O'Hanlon the required support, an intriguing final tussle could ensue.
Those factors go along with the ability of the forwards to create and take scores. Kevin O'Grady, who put aside his American holiday to see out this campaign, sparkled in the semi-final, while the emergence of Adam Parle as an excellent score-taker has lifted that burden off him somewhat. Brian Molloy looked impressive on his semi-final introduction, but all three will need to click if they are to enter the history books.
These factors combined on both sides explain why St. Martin's will be favourites, but they cannot be over-reliant on Ciarán Lyng for their scores. The potential is there for a great final, and it's St. Martin's to lift the cup.