Fethard will turn Croker into sea of red for Junior final
Fate can play such a significant part in the biggest of sporting journeys, and the Fethard hordes all set to descend on Croke Park next Sunday offer positive proof of this observation.
I covered a Top Oil Intermediate 'A' hurling championship game in Killurin on August 27 last year, and the Barden brothers, Lorcan and Paul, happened to be in my vicinity.
One half of the Fethard backroom team along with Kevin Bolger and Matty Hyland, they were spotting form after advancing to the quarter-finals in second place from their group one day earlier with a four-point win over Taghmon-Camross.
Their knockout opponents were determined there and then as Our Lady's Island knocked out Marshalstown-Castledockrell. And when I think of what has unfolded since, it truly is a fairytale that will hopefully end on the ultimate high note when they take on the Seamus and Declan Prendergast-powered St. Declan's of Ardmore in Waterford in Sunday's All-Ireland Club Junior hurling final.
First and foremost, their football result on the following weekend, September 2 to be exact, had an immense impact on the overall situation.
A 2-6 to 1-6 loss to Horeswood left them in the no man's land finishing spot of fifth, and their campaign was over.
It was a bitter disappointment, with their hopes vanishing after a promising start had yielded a win over neighbours St. James' and draws with Taghmon-Camross and St. Martin's.
A heavy defeat to Gusserane preceded that poor showing in the fifth round, but there was a blessing in disguise.
It meant that the club could concentrate exclusively on hurling and, eight games later, they are now all set to become the first Wexford representatives to play in an All-Ireland final since Rathnure lost the 1999 Senior decider to St. Joseph's Doora-Barefield of Clare.
However, that didn't happen without an almighty scare before that very first knockout hurdle was cleared.
Club official Charlie Walsh told me in a conversation at an Under-21 game before Christmas that they genuinely feared they were gone when Our Lady's Island held a two-point lead with ten minutes left in that quarter-final in Hollymount on September 9.
The fighting qualities that Fethard are famed for came to the fore once more, though, and a strong finish powered initially by two vital points from substitute Ciarán Dwyer eventually got them over the line on a 1-14 to 1-12 scoreline.
They haven't looked back since, with Oulart-The Ballagh, Duffry Rovers, Naomh Bríd (Carlow), Erin's Isle (Dublin), John Lockes (Kilkenny), Brothers Pearse (London) and Sylane (Galway) all falling by the wayside in what has developed into a tremendous odyssey for players, officials, members and fans alike.
The only pity is that Wexford neutral support is likely to be very low next Sunday with the appealing counter-attraction of that league clash at home to Cork.
The Fethard followers will be there to back their heroes every step of the way all the same, with young Rory Whelan front and centre after making a very welcome return last time out in Parnell Park.
The St. Mogue's men have been an absolute credit to Wexford since stepping outside the county boundary for the first time and entering the unknown.
They have grown in stature with every passing game and should relish this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in Croke Park and try to claim an All-Ireland title.
It's an incredible achievement when one considers hurling was only developed on a serious basis in the parish from the late 1970s onwards, with the first big breakthrough coming in the shape of Junior 'B' honours in 1980.
I sincerely hope they will be walking up those Hogan Stand steps next Sunday afternoon, and I wish them well in their endeavours.
FOOTNOTE: Congratulations to Harry Kehoe who may not have realised the significance of his very late, and brief, appearance in Walsh Park on Sunday. It was the Cloughbawn man's one hundredth Senior game for the county, having made his debut in the league against Carlow in 2009 and scoring 5-119 thus far. Well done to him on a wonderful personal achievement.