Intermediate Hurling the usual minefield
Big four of Cloughbawn, Ballymurn, Alley and Bunclody in quest for final places
The notion that The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship is one of the most difficult to win is certainly highlighted by the calibre of the four teams left in the hunt for this year's title.
And the situation is set to continue because, regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, three teams from the strong quartet of Buffers Alley, Cloughbawn, Crossabeg-Ballymurn and HWH-Bunclody will be seeking the crown again in 2020, along with relegated Oylegate-Glenbrien among other realistic contenders.
The semi-finals are set to attract a very interested crowd to Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday, and it's been a remarkable 20 years since the sides involved previously locked horns.
Not alone that, but it was also a double-header for those games, held in Ferns on September 25, 1999.
They were Senior relegation quarter-finals, with Cloughbawn beating Crossabeg-Ballymurn by 0-14 to 1-8, while Buffers Alley accounted for HWH-Bunclody by 2-14 to 1-11.
The latter went on to make the drop that year, losing the decider after a replay to their Wexford District rivals by 2-6 to 1-7.
They won Intermediate in 2002, only to last just one campaign in Senior before Cloughbawn beat them by 4-13 to 2-11 to send them down again.
It took HWH-Bunclody until 2010 to win the second-tier crown once more, but the same thing happened as they departed immediately from the top flight at the end of 2011.
As for Crossabeg-Ballymurn, they haven't played Senior since 2000, while Buffers Alley are hoping for a repeat of what happened in 2013.
On that occasion, they made it back to Senior at the first attempt, and that's the target again after their tame relegation final loss to Glynn-Barntown last year.
Cloughbawn's fall from grace was alarming and unexpected, as they made the drop in 2017, just twelve months after contesting the final against Oulart-The Ballagh.
And they discovered quickly that Intermediate is a minefield, as Fethard got the better of them in last year's replayed final.
The action will start at 2.45 p.m. with the meeting of the Clonroche men and Crossabeg-Ballymurn, who have gone close to winning this crown on a couple of occasions in recent campaigns.
After collecting the Intermediate 'A' title in 2014, they ran Naomh Eanna to a point in the following year's final, and lost to St. Anne's by the same margin in 2017.
In between there was a semi-final exit in 2016, and last season's quarter-final loss to St. James' marked their poorest showing since returning to the second tier.
Cloughbawn boast a potent attack, with Harry Kehoe, Connal Flood and Bob Whitty among the leading lights, while the Cartons, Furlongs, Barry and Colm Kehoe bring a wealth of experience to their ranks.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn haven't looked as convincing thus far, losing twice and drawing once in their group, although their double-scores dismissal of Askamore suggested they are hitting form at the right time.
Jack Fortune has added a new dimension to a dangerous attack featuring the trickery of Niall Murphy, the power of Sam Kelly, and the industry of Oisín Foley.
Of course, All Star nominee Pádraig Foley will be expected to drive his team on from centre-back, but the trio in the line behind him will need to be at their very best to curb the threat of a slightly more fancied Cloughbawn crew.
PATHS TO THE SEMI-FINAL - Cloughbawn: beat Askamore 0-24 to 0-12; beat Blackwater 2-14 to 2-12; beat St. James' 2-20 to 2-11; beat Shamrocks 0-19 to 1-10; drew with Adamstown 1-18 each; beat Rathgarogue-Cushinstown 3-20 to 0-16 (quarter-final); Crossabeg-Ballymurn: drew with Monageer-Boolavogue 0-12 to 1-9; lost to HWH-Bunclody 1-15 to 2-10; beat Rathgarogue-Cushinstown 2-22 to 0-9; beat Taghmon-Camross 0-18 to 1-12; lost to Buffers Alley 2-14 to 0-14; beat Askamore 3-15 to 0-12 (quarter-final).
Buffers Alley lost four Senior quarter-finals on the bounce between their Intermediate title in 2013 and last year's relegation, while HWH-Bunclody have featured in three of the last four semi-final line-ups at this level.
They haven't got over the line to reach a decider yet, however, and their bid to make it third time lucky will depend to a large extent on the contributions made by Aidan Nolan, Colm Farrell, Billy and Eoin Kelly, and Peter Atkinson.
One of their two group losses was to Buffers Alley (1-24 to 2-12).
They may well have reduced that nine-point gap in the interim, but not enough in our view to prevent a Gorey District side powered by Ross Donohoe, the Kenny clan, Seán Murphy and netminder Oliver O'Leary from reaching the final.
PATHS TO THE SEMI-FINAL - Buffers Alley: beat Taghmon-Camross 2-9 to 0-12; beat Monageer-Boolavogue 2-18 to 0-13; beat HWH-Bunclody 1-24 to 2-12; beat Rathgarogue-Cushinstown 1-23 to 0-12; beat Crossabeg-Ballymurn 2-14 to 0-14; beat St. James' 1-17 to 2-10 (quarter-final); HWH-Bunclody: lost to Rathgarogue-Cushinstown 3-11 to 2-10; beat Crossabeg-Ballymurn 1-15 to 2-10; lost to Buffers Alley 1-24 to 2-12; beat Monageer-Boolavogue 3-12 to 3-8; beat Taghmon-Camross 2-25 to 2-13; beat Blackwater 1-18 to 2-8 (quarter-final).