Fair play to Fethard for breaking strong Kilkenny monopoly
One of the most elusive trophies on the club hurling front has finally come to Wexford thanks to the tremendous exploits of a fired-up Fethard side in Saturday's AIB Leinster Junior championship final.
This is the 15th year of the competition, and twelve of the previous 14 were won by the Kilkenny representatives. In fact, they have contested every single final, with their only losses before last weekend coming in 2005, when Erin's Own of Carlow beat Thomastown, and in 2013, when Ballinamere from Offaly pipped Lisdowney.
This first-ever win for Wexford was a wonderful achievement, especially as it was achieved with such a strong display.
John Lockes from Callan had already won this title in 2010, strolling to a big victory over Drumcullen from Offaly, but they simply weren't allowed to dictate matters on this occasion and I'd say they were taken aback by the strength of the Fethard challenge.
It's important to clear up one important matter before I progress, as I heard some comments to the effect that the Kilkenny side were playing in a domestic grade one rung below the new champions.
This simply isn't true, as there's twelve Senior and twelve Intermediate teams on Noreside, the exact same as ourselves.
The only difference comes in the naming of the next (third) grade in the respective counties, as we call ours Intermediate 'A' whereas their next batch of clubs compete in the Junior championship.
In other words, Saturday's game pitted the 25th best team in Wexford against the 25th best in Kilkenny in terms of finishing places this year, so anyone trying to pick holes in Fethard's success on that basis is wide of the mark.
I should also give Askamore a mention at this juncture, because they may be unhappy with the references to Fethard as being the first-ever Wexford winners.
However, that is the case, and here's why: prior to 1996 the Leinster Club championships were confined solely to Senior in both codes, but in that year a Junior football tournament for county winners was organised.
Because of its success, it was eventually extended to Junior hurling, and the first competition was open to the 2000 county champions and played for in the early months of 2001, before and after the Foot and Mouth crisis.
Askamore were the inaugural outright winners, beating Naomh Eoin in Myshall before recording a trio of home victories against neighbours Carnew Emmets, Camross from Laois, and finally Boardsmill of Meath in the final by 2-11 to 0-11.
However, it was only a tournament with no All-Ireland dimension, and this didn't come in until full championship status was bestowed on the grade by the provinces in 2003.
Since then, and prior to Saturday, just one Wexford club had reached a Leinster final, with Clongeen going down to Tullogher-Rosbercon by 1-19 to 3-8 in a thriller in Nowlan Park in 2008.
And while Askamore's achievement was impressive at the time, it's a far more prestigious grade to win nowadays when Fethard find themselves a mere two hours away from a possible Croke Park appearance.
They have a trip to Britain to overcome first at the end of the month and an All-Ireland quarter-final hurdle to be surmounted, so hopefully they will curtail the celebrations for a while and give that trip into the unknown their full attention.
Notwithstanding the loss of Starlights, it was one of the best weekends for Wexford in a long time on the provincial club scene, as Kilanerin became our first side to qualify for a Leinster Intermediate football final since that championship began in 2003.
I hate to finish on a negative note then, but I cannot help myself. Next Sunday the St. Martin's hurlers will play Cuala in Parnell Park at 2 p.m., while their camogie team is set to take on Thomastown in the Leinster final in Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow, at 2.30 p.m.
This is a shameful state of affairs, putting some families in an impossible position, not to mention supporters. It's easy to fill the air with empty words, and 'integration' is the one I'm fed up hearing as far as camogie and the G.A.A. are concerned. Both venues are floodlit, so why couldn't one game be moved to Saturday night?