Saturday 16 December 2017

Consistent champs and Martin's fancied for final showdown

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

Statistics don't always tell the full story and are sometimes presented in a selective way to illustrate a desired point.

Nonetheless, they don't lie on other occasions, and how about this one for a prime example: when Oulart-The Ballagh take to the field against Rapparees in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, it will be a remarkable 20th semi-final appearance from 24 attempts since their breakthrough year of 1994 when they won the county title for the first time.

What an incredible record of consistency, with the highlight of the run coming from 2004 to 2013 when they featured in ten penultimate round encounters on the trot.

That semi-final success over Crossabeg-Ballymurn 23 years ago was followed by a narrow victory over St. Martin's and the start of a golden spell that has lifted them to second spot on the Senior hurling roll of honour with 13 titles.

Their slip-ups in that lengthy spell were rare, losing in the straight knockout first round to Shelmaliers after a replay in 1998, to Faythe Harriers at the second time of asking in the 2001 quarter-final, and to Rathnure and Glynn-Barntown respectively at the same stage in 2003 and 2014.

And of the 19 semi-finals contested thus far, 16 were won with only Rathnure managing to beat them on three separate occasions in 2002, 2007 and 2008.

That phenomenal record highlights the magnitude of the task facing Rapparees who are back in the last four for the first time since 2001 when they accounted for St. Anne's before going down in the final to Faythe Harriers.

Nonetheless, they will take heart from a promising display against the favourites in the group stages before falling away in the closing minutes, coupled with that morale-boosting football semi-final victory over Castletown on Sunday.

The Bellefield boys haven't known a year like this for quite some time, although it's still hard to look beyond anything other than a third successive final appearance for Oulart-The Ballagh.

Naomh Eanna, like the Rapps, gave St. Martin's a stern test before losing their group clash, and they will be intent on making a big impression in the club's first semi-final since the high-scoring 1984 loss to Faythe Harriers (6-9 to 4-12).

Prior to that they exited at this stage to Buffers Alley in 1975, and to the Wexford town men in 1979, and they will be hoping that they will be a lot more competitive than in the Premier Under-21 final against the same opponents last month when high pre-match hopes were quickly shattered.

Many of the same young players will be involved next Sunday, and I think we will witness a much closer contest.

The dual performers on both sides endured a tough weekend. Gorey went down after extra-time in the Intermediate 'A' football final, but that game was on Friday so they had longer to recover than St. Martin's who will be battered and bruised after that drawn Senior clash with Shelmaliers on Sunday.

While their potential is obvious, the Wexford District men have struggled to get back to the semi-finals since the last of their two county Senior titles in 2008.

Indeed, this will only be their third appearance since then, having beaten Buffers Alley and Glynn-Barntown in 2010 and 2015 respectively before losing both finals to Oulart-The Ballagh.

I think there is the greater chance of an upset in this game than the all-Enniscorthy District tie, but ultimately I expect the two favourites to prevail and set up a repeat of that final of two years ago, won by the red and blacks on a 2-15 to 0-13 scoreline.

Finally this week, I was delighted to witness Gusserane winning the Junior 'A' football title on Saturday after a litany of near misses in the knockout stages.

I know how much this means to the Duffin and Browne families in particular, and it was a special occasion for all concerned.

The late Ivan and David played in one of the most exciting under-age games I ever witnessed, the Jim Byrne Cup final of 2002 when Sarsfields pipped Gusserane by a point on a wet day in Clongeen after a cracking encounter.

They left us all too soon but will never be forgotten in G.A.A. circles.

Wexford People

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