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Saturday 20 April 2019

Fethard one step from Croker

Chance of a lifetime against north Galway side Sylane

Bryan, Eddie and Martin Power, grandsons of James Gleeson, after the Leinster final win with Pádraic, Oisín and Odhrán Gleeson, great-grandsons of James Gleeson, who played with St. Mogue’s in their first-ever county title win in 1917
Bryan, Eddie and Martin Power, grandsons of James Gleeson, after the Leinster final win with Pádraic, Oisín and Odhrán Gleeson, great-grandsons of James Gleeson, who played with St. Mogue’s in their first-ever county title win in 1917

Dean Goodison

For a relatively small seaside club, chances like this don't come around every season. On Saturday, Fethard will book a February 4 date at Croke Park with victory over Galway outfit Sylane (Parnell Park, 3 p.m.) in the AIB All-Ireland Junior hurling club championship semi-final.

The New Ross District side, Intermediate 'A' champions with the potential to improve further, blitzed their way through 2017. Often taking the county title, like they did against Duffry Rovers in October, is the pinnacle of a club season, especially in this county. Fethard were a club with different ideas.

Unsurprisingly, Kilkenny have been the standard-bearers in the Leinster Junior hurling championship. Between 2002 and 2016, just Erin's Own of Carlow (2005) and Offaly club Ballinamere (2013) had broken the stranglehold of Cats clubs.

So when Fethard beat Naomh Bríd (Carlow) in the quarter-final and followed it with a classy win against Erin's Isle (Dublin) in the last four it was cool, a nice achievement, but they still hadn't beaten Kilkenny opposition.

That was, until they dominated John Lockes in Wexford Park on November 11, winning by 1-17 to 2-11.

With that victory, Fethard became the first Wexford side to win the Leinster Junior title since Askamore back in 2000, and the first ever to enter an All Ireland series that came into existence three years later.

They also navigated the potential banana skin trip to London to face Brothers Pearse in the quarter-final, winning through by 0-18 to 2-9. Now they are one step from every club player's dream, the Holy Grail, walking out on that perfectly manicured headquarters surface, fighting for an All-Ireland winner's medal.

Sylane are in the way. Not one of the fashionable Galway clubs, the county champions at Junior 'A' and Junior 1 level are based in strong football land. They draw their players from Corofin, Caherlistrane, Kilconly and Headford.

Despite the area's football heart, Sylane have more experience of provincial hurling and beyond than their Saturday opponents.

After winning the Connacht title, they were beaten in an All-Ireland Junior hurling championship semi-final eleven years ago by Moyle Rovers.

They made it back to the same stage in early 2016 but this time lost by 0-10 to 0-4 to Derry club Eoghan Rua.

An interesting side-note from that game is that Colum Cunning of Antrim was the referee that afternoon, and he will be the man in the middle against Fethard too.

Sylane have put those disappointments behind them. Largely the same squad of players claimed Junior 1 and Junior 'A' hurling championships this season, and they will play Intermediate hurling in Galway next term.

In the competition that qualifies them for the provincial tilt, Sylane went unbeaten on their way to the Galway Junior 1 title, beating Micheál Breathnachs in the final. Having beaten them in both of their previous Connacht finals, they eased past Calry-St. Joseph's of Sligo, winning by 0-21 to 0-5.

Who do Fethard need to pay special attention to? Kevin Brady is an inspirational midfielder, provider and scorer. However, the Wexford club need to hit the ground running.

All six starting forwards were on the scoresheet in the Galway Junior 'A' final against Tommy Larkins, and they repeated that same feat versus Calry-St. Joseph's in the Connacht decider.

Fethard have been going hard at it the last couple of weeks, with the full intent of reaching the promised land. They have even played a couple of competitive challenge games against the infamous Ballyragget boys and All-Ireland semi-finalists Middletown Na Fianna from Armagh.

They will have to do without the suspended Graham O'Grady for their trip to Dublin, but Bryan Power is on the way back from injury and could feature while Darren Foley is going well and pushing for inclusion from the start.

It's sure to be a real high octane encounter but Fethard have what it takes to get over the line, with their mix of youth and experience enough to see them sneak home after a tight battle with a tough Sylane side.

Wexford People

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