Novel pairing as Stars try to stop Under-21 double
We certainly have a novel pairing for Sunday's Greenstar Under-21 football Premier championship final, with the Crossabeg-Ballymurn fairytale continuing as they bid for an amazing double against Starlights who are seeking to bridge a 13-year gap.
With just twelve days left until Christmas by thrown in-time, thankfully the sensible decision has been made to play the game in a venue with a stand; at least the majority of spectators will be guaranteed the chance to sit down and avoid the elements if any of Storm Desmond's annoying cousins have decided to stick around.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn will be in confident form following their recent Under-21 hurling Premier championship triumph over Glynn-Barntown and, guess who was the last club to complete a double at this level? None other than the Rapparees-Starlights themselves, back in 2002 when the football was won by a one-point margin against Shelmaliers while the hurlers were more convincing victors over Rathnure.
That was their fourth Under-21 football success after previous wins in 1982, 1985 and 2001, while they also lost the finals of 1984, 1990 and 1991. And although it will be their first appearance at this stage since 2002, I wasn't as surprised with the outcome as some people I was talking to after they dethroned three-in-a-row seeking Shelmaliers on Friday night.
After all, the Bellefield crew's Senior side had a few decent results during the championship, and that was largely down to the energy and ability of the key men on this Under-21 team such as Liam Ryan, Kevin Foley, Ryan Mahon, Dillon Redmond and Anthony Roche.
However, they do deserve credit for beating such a strong team given the four-week gap since their win over Forth and Bargy Gaels, particularly as the Shels had the advantage of match sharpness after being out on the two previous Saturdays.
It's also worth noting that Starlights won the Wexford People Premier Minor title in 2013, although the black and ambers had completed the three-in-a-row at that level from 2010 to 2012 so would have entertained high hopes of repeating that feat in the higher grade.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn's quarter-final and semi-final wins over St. John's Gaels and St. Martin's were spaced out nicely over two weeks, and another fortnight will have elapsed before they take to the field again on Sunday.
On the same weekend last year, they beat Ballyhogue by 1-7 to 1-5 to clinch the Under-21 Roinn 1 title, and to be in a Premier final twelve months later must be beyond their wildest dreams.
With no disrespect intended to Starlights, I'm particularly delighted to see Crossabeg-Ballymurn at this level, because this squad, and the progress of football in the club in general, has its origins in their decision to enter an Under-10 team for the first time in the 2004 Brendan Redmond Memorial tournament run by the Sarsfields club.
Pat O'Rourke, Michael Devereux, Liam Eviston and Brian Foley looked after a group who were joint bottom after three rounds, but they improved with every outing and won all remaining group games against some of the top football clubs in the county before losing their final to Taghmon-Camross, who are also still in contention for the Under-21 Roinn 1 title eleven years later.
That was the start of the Crossabeg-Ballymurn football revival, and it's to the great credit of the four men named above that they are still involved at the club's coalface with a super group of players.
It's just a shame that the Brendan Redmond tournament has been diluted, along with so many others like it, due to interference from higher bodies. Ciarán Lyng and Ben Brosnan also played their first finals in that competition, but now it's reduced to a one-day blitz.
One last note on Sunday's final: Crossabeg-Ballymurn will hope the appointment of John Tobin to referee is a lucky omen, as he also handled their Under-21 hurling win. The Barrowsider is the only official to be chosen for two finals of competitions looked after by the adult C.C.C. so far this year, with just one left after Sunday; Tobin shared that accolade with James Owens in 2014 when he refereed the Junior 'A' hurling replay and Junior 'B' football finals.