Sunday 19 November 2017

Do or die weekend

Co. football final places up for grabs

Dean Goodison

It's football championship semi-final weekend in Wexford with the top five grades all set to produce finalists in the coming days.

Most eyes will be on Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday afternoon, with the two Tom Doyle Supplies Senior semi-finals down for decision.

The bookies have an interesting take on the four teams left fighting it out for right to be called the best in the county in 2016. Glynn-Barntown are the outsiders, available at as much as 7/1 in certain local bookmakers.

Keen observers will know that very little separates most of the clubs in the top tier. That is partly indicated by St. James' remarkable run last season but it is also worth noting how well the Killurin-based side have handled the transition to Senior football.

After throwing away an eight-point interval advantage when falling to Castletown by two in their opener, they lost another close contest to St. Anne's (1-7 to 0-9). Since then, Glynn-Barntown have been on a roll, taking four straight victories, including their quarter-final success against Shelmaliers.

They fully deserve to be in this position and can certainly cause a 'shock'. They also match-up pretty well against their near neighbours. With Michael O'Regan, Robert Dempsey and Mark Fanning all operating in advanced positions, they have plenty of firepower.

If there's a question mark lingering over the Piercestown-based club, it's their defence. The individual defenders might get a bit of a raw deal by that, as St. Martin's are probably the most expansive of the sides in the Senior championship, but they can be got at.

The problem many find against the 2013 champions is that they can't match them at both ends of the pitch. Can Glynn-Barntown's three pronged-attack, supported by solid performers like Matthew Joyce and Craig Doyle, do enough damage to beat the championship favourites?

St. Martin's have a serious bunch of players themselves and will now be solely focused on the big ball, after their shock loss to Ferns St. Aidan's in the Senior hurling quarter-final. That has to make them more dangerous, as two weeks to work solely on football is a 'luxury' Glynn-Barntown certainly haven't had.

It's just three years since they won, to date, their only Senior title but this is a whole new team. Just five men that started that final against Fethard were in the first 15 for their quarter-final against St. James' earlier this month. But most would say that those changes have improved this team overall.

This one is so tight to call. If both had the same schedule in the coming weeks Glynn-Barntown would get the nod but with a sole focus, reasonable time to prepare and a desperation to not waste another year, St. Martin's get the tentative pick.

Maybe Gusserane against Castletown will eventually turn out to be the better of the two semi-finals but it feels like it's a little overshadowed in the lead-up. Castletown have had a good, solid season to date, without maybe giving the complete performance.

That has got to leave question marks for their New Ross District opponents who themselves have flown into the last four a little under the radar, beating St. Anne's in the quarter-finals without too much concern.

The beauty of this clash is that it pits two football strongholds together. Both clubs have been in Senior finals in the last four years but both lost those title deciders to the men from Rathangan.

For Castletown, Donnacha Holmes has had a fantastic season to date. In many ways he's taken the mantle from older brother James as his club's most important forward, and if the Gorey District side are to reach their fifth final in eleven years they will need a big game from him.

At the other end of the field Castletown arguably have the strongest defensive unit in the championship. Danny Gardiner has matured into a rock at full-back but he's surrounded with team-mates who are not only comfortable defending but also on the ball.

They will have to be at their best to keep Seán Ryan and co. quiet. Gusserane have a strong blend of lads at the prime of their club careers and young talent getting better all the time.

Combined with Fethard, they are going strong in the Wexford People Minor championship, their Under-21 side will be one of the favourites for the title, and this side should not be dismissed out of hand. However, Castletown are picked to shade it but, again, a Gusserane win wouldn't be a major shock.

Set to face St. Martin's in Senior hurling and Kilanerin in Intermediate football, few outside of Ferns would have given them much chance of still being in either of those championships before the quarter-final ties were played, never mind both.

But here they are, ready to take their chance opposite Taghmon-Camross in Wexford Park on Saturday (4 p.m.). Will lightning strike for an unprecedented third time for the underdogs?

Taghmon-Camross have the look of a dangerous opponent in both football and hurling right now, as they have a talented group of players and are picked to take the win. However, nobody would be surprised at this stage if Ferns did it again.

Preceding that tie is the meeting of Ballyhogue and Bannow-Ballymitty in the other last four clash (2.30 p.m.). There comes a time when a tag of under-performer morphs into a 'well, maybe they aren't as good as people think' label.

For Bannow-Ballymitty the time to live up to their potential is now. The addition of Kieran Butler has the chance of pushing the Grantstown boys over the line and back to the Senior championship. Ballyhogue are the next side to stand in their way.

The Bree-based club shouldn't be underestimated. They have a younger nucleus than their opponents and are rippled with players ripe for improvement. However, this clash might be just coming a season early, and Bannow-Ballymitty are chosen to progress but only after a battle.

Seven points separated Duffry Rovers from Craanford when they met back in the Joyces Expert Intermediate 'A' football championship in April but there's plenty of water under the bridge since then.

The Coolree side have flattered to deceive while Craanford have come into form, and the Gorey District side are picked for another upset in St. Patrick's Park on Saturday (7.30 p.m.).

Cloughbawn against Crossabeg-Ballymurn promises to be a massive battle (6 p.m.) before the other semi-final. The latter are a little more polished but are starting to lose players to injury, so the Castleboro men are chosen to edge it.

A Saturday clash with Monageer-Boolavogue has banana skin written all over it for Rathgarogue-Cushinstown (Bellefield, 2.30 p.m.). Somehow they are still kicking a Junior football after all these years of promise. The New Ross District side should win, but Monageer-Boolavogue probably will progress.

Shamrocks have been going well in the in the Junior football championship this season, and with Oylegate-Glenbrien minds drifting elsewhere this week, expect the Enniscorthy town club to take the spoils in Bellefield (4 p.m.).

St. Anne's Juniors have been decimated by the loss of players and struggled to overcome Volunteers in the quarters. They might be caught out by a HWH-Bunclody side hungry for success. In the other Junior 'A' semi-final, St. Martin's are expected to overcome Gusserane as they chase back-to-back titles with their second string.

Wexford People

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