Tuesday 21 May 2019

Hurling semis are a neutral’s dream, full of possibilities

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Sunday's Pettitt's Senior hurling championship semi-final double-header is a neutral's dream, full of exciting possibilities.

Firstly, the fact that either Naomh Eanna or Oylegate-Glenbrien will definitely make the decider creates a novelty factor made all the more appealing by the feat of Shelmaliers in qualifying for a first-ever Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football final last Sunday.

It's going to lead to two very interesting occasions on October 14 and 21 respectively, because the involvement of new clubs on the biggest days always adds greatly to the occasion.

Barring a draw, and don't rule it out, either the Gorey men or their Enniscorthy District rivals will be able to sit back and take in every second of the clash to decide their county final opponents.

Hindsight is always great for shedding light on sporting matters, but by all accounts there has been a heavy emphasis on hurling in Piercestown and Bellefield in recent weeks.

That appeared to be confirmed in the respective displays of both clubs in their football semi-final losses last Sunday, and with no more distractions it means that this really has the potential to be the best game of the year so far.

St. Martin's and Rapparees have met six times in group games in this decade, starting in 2010 when the Enniscorthy town team won by the minimum (1-13 to 1-12).

A Martin's treble followed, in 2012 (2-12 to 2-10), 2015 (3-12 to 1-9), and 2016 (1-19 to 0-17).

Last year's 3-16 to 0-11 success for Rapparees has to be viewed in the context that their rivals had already qualified.

And the real yardstick to go by is their most recent meeting in August, when Kevin Foley crashed home a late goal after a rebound from a 'Mossy' Mahon free to force a 1-18 to 2-15 draw.

Naomh Eanna and Oylegate-Glenbrien haven't met as frequently, just twice in fact since the turn of the decade.

And once again, their recent clash on September 8 won't have any bearing on Sunday, given that the boys in blue - already through - didn't use four regulars in a 6-17 to 3-12 defeat.

However, it will be interesting to see if Oylegate-Glenbrien have learned anything from last year's quarter-final, when Conor McDonald was left one-on-one at full-forward for too long before remedial action was taken, and the Gorey side advanced by 3-13 to 1-12.

I'm sure the training field in Oylegate will be buzzing this week, given that the club's last semi-final appearance was as long ago as 1963, when they went on to beat Horeswood to capture the club's sole title thus far.

Naomh Eanna have never contested back-to-back semi-finals before, and this team is aiming to succeed where the club teams of 1975, 1979, 1984 and 2017 failed. Imagine the boost a first involvement in a Senior final would give to the north county town, with the huge emphasis placed on under-age development already shining through in their Senior exploits?

When Rapparees reached last year's semi-final, they were bridging a 16-year gap in the process. Five quarter-finals had been lost between 2010 and 2016, so it's an encouraging sign to see the club getting back to the penultimate round again.

It's the first time since their run from 1976 to 1978 that the Cathedral town men will feature in the semis in successive years.

Of course, champions St. Martin's boast the best record in terms of involvement at this stage of the competition, finishing as runners-up in 2010 and 2015 before last year's impressive triumph.

If Rory O'Connor is a one hundred per cent absentee, and not even fit enough to be sprung from the bench for the last ten minutes if his colleagues are struggling, then that will be an obvious fillip for the Rapps who seem to be responding very well to the coaching input of that sweetest of stickmen, Adrian Fenlon.

I give them a fighting chance of going one better than last year, although it will take an almighty effort to dethrone the holders. I'm not sitting on the fence, but another draw wouldn't surprise me.

Naomh Eanna have taken important steps up the ladder since winning the Intermediate title in 2015. They contested a quarter-final in 2016, and a semi-final in 2017, and I expect them to continue in that vein by advancing to a first decider in their history next Sunday.

Gorey Guardian