Sunday 20 October 2019

Winning first title made sweeter by very tough route

Alan Aherne: On The Line

I'm sure the first thing many of the good folk from the parish of Ramsgrange did when they rose on Sunday morning was give themselves a good pinch to make sure that they weren't still stuck in the middle of a pleasant dream, and that the events of the previous day had really happened.

Of course, that's if any of them managed to get any sleep in the first place, which is probably highly unlikely!

There's something very special about seeing a club winning a Senior title for the first time on county final day, and on this occasion it was the turn of the mighty men of St. James' who earned huge admiration from neutrals for their cool and composed approach on the biggest stage of all.

The margins in sport can be incredibly tight, and the events of last Saturday underlined that fact in spades.

The one-point superior scoring difference which saw the new champions scrape into fourth spot and secure a quarter-final contest has been well documented at this stage as the key turning point of the season.

However, I prefer to cast my mind back to last year's Intermediate football championship final when St. James' pipped Glynn-Barntown by a point after extra-time.

Only for the Gordon Banks-like moment from goalkeeper Noel Holohan in that game, the men based in Mersheen wouldn't even be a Senior club in 2015, let alone marching proudly on Pearse Park in Longford next Sunday as first-time champions.

Ultimately that's what so many sporting contests boil down to, as even one touch of the ball can make a world of difference.

St. James' won this title the hard way, and I'm sure that makes it all the sweeter. They weren't expected to take the 2012 Intermediate crown against Starlights as the Enniscorthy men had been surprisingly demoted from Senior the previous year and duly bounced back.

However, when St. James' qualified for the decider again in 2013, there's no denying that the three-point defeat by St. Fintan's was unexpected by many and a bitter blow.

Their sheer dogged persistence was finally rewarded twelve months ago, and look where they are now!

And think back on how they earned this title too. Along the way they beat the previous two champions and last year's runners-up, while they drew with one of the clubs defeated in the last two semi-finals and then beat the other after a replay.

As paths to a first championship crown go, it doesn't get much tougher than that, and that makes this achievement all the more praiseworthy.

Now they can travel to the midlands to face Michael Quinn, Seán McCormack and the rest of the Emmet Og (Killoe) contingent with nothing to lose. The main football goal for 2015 has been achieved, and I wouldn't bet against them adding the Intermediate 'A' hurling crown, also at the first attempt, on the weekend of November 7 and 8.

Apart from the quality of their team in the small ball code, they will bring momentum and an unquenchable spirit to the table when they take on Ballyfad in the semi-final on the weekend after next.

In years to come the players, supporters and mentors will sit back and marvel at the sheer wonder of it all, but for the moment the games continue to come thick and fast so the focus will switch from celebrating to preparing again for the rest of the week.

Speaking of persistence being rewarded, Glynn-Barntown set the tone for the weekend in that regard on Friday when they collected the Intermediate football crown which had eluded them in such cruel fashion at the hands of St. James' last year.

Already they have cleared the first hurdle in Leinster after a roller-coaster weekend, and they may not be finished yet.

As expected, Saturday's Intermediate hurling final could have gone either way, with a promising Naomh Eanna team just shading the verdict over Crossabeg-Ballymurn to return to the top flight.

Now the focus turns to the Pettitt's Senior hurling final on Sunday, and the big questions of course are: can St. Martin's recover from the bitter disappointment of last weekend, or will Oulart-The Ballagh get back into the winning groove after slipping up in 2014?

Wexford People

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