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Delight for Ferns St Aidan's as they capture first Wexford Senior hurling championship crown

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Ferns St Aidan's celebrate after winning the Wexford Senior hurling championship final in Chadwicks Wexford Park.

Ferns St Aidan's celebrate after winning the Wexford Senior hurling championship final in Chadwicks Wexford Park.

Ferns St Aidan's celebrate after winning the Wexford Senior hurling championship final in Chadwicks Wexford Park.

wexfordpeople

PETTITT’S SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Ferns St. Aidan’s 1-20 St. Martin’s 0-22

A moment the good folk of Ferns St. Aidan’s have been waiting for all their lives finally arrived in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday, and it’s one that they will remember forever.

There’s nothing as special in a sporting context as winning a major title for the first time, and that last blast of referee Eamonn Furlong’s whistle resonated with partisans and neutrals alike – signifying history being made.

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This was an engrossing and extremely entertaining Pettitt’s Senior hurling championship decider, with Ferns St. Aidan’s joining the ranks of title winners by the minimum margin against a St. Martin’s side that pushed them to their very limits.

Coming through on the right side after such a titanic battle makes their marvellous achievement all the sweeter, and they will look back with pride on several moments of inspiration and magic that ultimately decided the outcome.

However, it was the collective effort of the fantastic Ferns St. Aidan’s players that really shone through, with mighty contributions from all over the field and off the bench as their veterans made up for the disappointment of losing at the same stage to Oulart-The Ballagh in 2013.

They all realised that this was an opportunity that simply had to be seized, and that message was clearly hammered home to their younger colleagues too as a supreme united effort ensured a new name was added to the prestigious roll of honour.

Ten of the players used on Sunday were survivors from nine years earlier, and every club hurling follower in the county will be delighted that these stalwarts of the game have finally received such rich rewards for their never-ending efforts.

TG4 man of the match Paul Morris led that inspiring group that also features captain Declan Byrne, James Tonks, Ciarán ‘Bertie’ Roberts, Benny Jordan, Tommy Dwyer, Ian Byrne, Jonny Dwyer, John Breen and Christopher ‘Bitzy’ O’Connor – a roll call of magnificent servants who have now entered the pantheon of all-time Ferns St. Aidan’s greats.

That figure would have numbered eleven but for the cruciate ligament injury that ruled the talented Gavin Bailey out of this campaign, and it was a classy touch by Declan Byrne to ensure the pair lifted the Dr. R.J. Bowe Cup together.

If the elder statesmen more than played their part, then the same holds true for the rest of their colleagues.

Patrick Breen’s spectacular booted goal near the end of the first-half was a priceless piece of individual magic, with only one thing on his mind when the ground opened up in front of him as he bolted towards the town end goal.

James Lawlor was safety personified between the posts, while Niall and Eoin Murphy will have to enter the conversation for starting places with Wexford given the quality defending both displayed throughout this memorable campaign.

The same holds true for Corey Byrne-Dunbar who outlined once again why he is such an exciting attacking prospect, while the top-notch contributions of Rory Scallan, Chris Turner and Diarmuid Doyle, plus late substitute Ryan Nolan in earlier games, must also be acknowledged. The club’s unsuccessful efforts to have Conor Scallan freed from suspension continued until Saturday night, but he had certainly played his part too in previous rounds.

While it’s only natural that the entire focus is on the new champions, the first-class effort of St. Martin’s also deserves the highest praise.

It will be cold comfort for the losers to realise that they left it all on the field and tried everything possible to win against the odds. Indeed, it was one of the best performances by a losing side that I can recall on county final day, considering the absence of Rory O’Connor and his brother Jack being restricted to a late appearance off the bench.

Not for the first time in this campaign, several of their younger players displayed leadership traits beyond their tender years. Gritty defender Joe Barrett stood tall in that regard, never shying away from the battle he underwent with Paul Morris for long stages after the Ferns talisman moved out to the ’40, while attacking ace Kyle Firman added five points from play to the six he struck in the semi-final.

Rest assured that a full-strength St. Martin’s team will be a formidable force in the years to come, and they more than played their part in a final that lived up to all expectations that it would be a very tight contest.

The 2019 champions got off the mark when Joe Coleman pointed from under the stand after 49 seconds, with Ian Byrne hitting the first of seven Ferns wides from a free he had earned before they levelled in the fourth minute.

A long delivery by James Lawlor broke off Byrne into the path of Paul Morris, and he opened his account from the left flank.

Morris turned provider for the lead score, latching on to a diagonal Tommy Dwyer line ball and handpassing out to wing-back James Tonks who slotted over.

Joe Coleman levelled from a free, with St. Martin’s putting Conor Firman on Morris initially while Joe Barrett kept tabs on Byrne before the Ferns pair swapped positions. When that happened, Barrett remained at centre-back and his fascinating duel with Morris unfolded.

Corey Byrne-Dunbar cleverly won a ’65 on the endline in a tussle with Diarmuid O’Leary that was pointed by Byrne for a 0-3 to 0-2 lead in the eighth minute.

Tommy Dwyer and Rory Scallan then combined to create the first of Jonny Dwyer’s three points from play, but Kyle Firman hit back after controlling a long Dylan Byrne free.

Ian Byrne made it 0-5 to 0-3 from a free after a rampaging run by Rory Scallan, and that’s how it remained at the first water break.

And although a Joe Coleman placed ball reduced arrears to the minimum on the restart, Ferns hit a bright patch that yielded three points without reply in a very fruitful 58-second period.

Another foul on Scallan was converted by Byrne, with the puck-out sent straight to Jonny Dwyer who returned it over the bar with interest. And when Corey Byrne-Dunbar dinked a lovely pass into the path of Diarmuid Doyle, for a split second it looked like he might put the head down and go for goal, before opting for a point instead (0-8 to 0-4).

Aaron Maddock picked out Joe Coleman from the restart and the St. Martin’s top scorer surged forward with a goal on his mind, but James Lawlor made a super save at the expense of a ’65 that Coleman missed for the first of just three wides from the losers.

However, that marked the beginning of a spell of Martin’s dominance that yielded six points on the bounce in a mere eight minutes.

Coleman atoned from a long-range free after a foul on Joe Barrett, and he sent over his next ’65 after Ferns full-back Niall Murphy blocked an Aaron Maddock shot.

Mark Maloney sprayed a neat pass into space for Kyle Firman to register his second score, and the equaliser came from Luke Kavanagh after Conor Firman won the puck-out (0-8 each).

Maloney was again the provider for Jack Devereux to shoot the lead point, and the young corner-forward quickly added another after a crossfield Kyle Firman pass.

Just when it looked like Ferns were losing their way, they came up with a spectacular response from the most unlikely of sources.

Patrick Breen started in the full-back line but had drifted outfield when he produced the moment that will mark him down as a hero of the red and white jersey for the rest of his life.

A long James Lawlor clearance down the left wing was caught by Corey Byrne-Dunbar and played outside to Jonny Dwyer. He in turn got the call from Breen who was running off his right shoulder, with the handpass collected on the 45-metre line.

Breen could see the Martin’s defence parting in front of him, and he didn’t need any further encouragement. Although David Codd and Philip Dempsey tried their best, they couldn’t get a tackle in and the Ferns flyer bore down on Dylan Byrne’s goal before kicking home powerfully off the back staunchion – a natural way to finish for a man who spent four consecutive campaigns with the county’s Minor and Under-21 footballers from 2011 to 2014.

That rousing moment edged Ferns in front again (1-8 to 0-10), and Jonny Dwyer added his third point for good measure before Aaron Maddock pulled one back before the break.

Paul Morris doubled his own account on the restart after intercepting a stray Martin’s pass, but the Firmans combined at the other end as Jake fed Kyle who made it a one-point game again (1-10 to 0-12).

And although Conor Firman made one fine catch over the head of Ian Byrne, there was a different outcome when James Lawlor sprayed a long ball towards the Clonard end in the 34th minute.

This time Byrne grabbed it and, with a goal on his mind, his scorcher flew over the bar but it was his second-last meaningful involvement. He succumbed to injury a short time later after sending over a free in response to one from Joe Coleman, leaving Ferns without the championship’s leading scorer as they faced a battle to the death.

Joe Barrett popped up in an advanced position to accept a Kyle Firman pass and slot it over, but Benny Jordan made an instant impact off the bench, pulling on a ball near the uncovered stand sideline and teeing up Corey Byrne-Dunbar for a lovely point (1-13 to 0-14).

Jake Firman responded from distance, with Paul Morris converting a tricky free from the left flank – the only time he was required after taking over the placed-ball duties from the departed Ian Byrne.

Morris covered an enormous amount of ground and regularly popped up in his own half in fire-fighting mode, and it was from there that he sent a sweet short pass to Benny Jordan for a crowd-rousing point in the 41st minute (1-15 to 0-15).

However, St. Martin’s weren’t going away, and Aaron Maddock picked out Kyle Firman in space for the last score prior to the water break.

A Diarmuid Doyle drive for goal was blocked on the restart, but Corey Byrne-Dunbar ensured the attack ended with something positive as he picked off a point (1-16 to 0-16).

And a costly incident followed for St. Martin’s as they lost a free for retaliation after an initial overcarrying call against Paul Morris. The ball was seized upon by James Tonks from the throw-in, and his crossfield pass was popped over the bar by Diarmuid Doyle.

Mikey Coleman pulled a point back in his last involvement before making way for Jack O’Connor, and an opening for goal was fashioned by the Wexford District men shortly afterwards.

Joe Barrett kept moving forward after his catch started the move that subsequently featured substitute Darren Codd and Kyle Firman. And while Barrett tried a speculative shot on goal, Ciarán Roberts threw his body at it and kept it out for a ’65 that Joe Coleman sent over (1-17 to 0-18).

A clever Tommy Dwyer line ball back to Jonny Dwyer, who popped a short pass over a defender to an unmarked Corey Byrne-Dunbar, resulted in a handy Ferns point, but St. Martin’s drove forward again.

Three points followed in four minutes to equalise, with Kyle Firman hitting the last of his five before Joe Coleman arrowed over two frees (0-21 to 1-18).

With additional time upon us, Ferns hit the front again when a Jonny Dwyer line ball into the goalmouth was finished over the bar by substitute Christopher O’Connor.

Jack O’Connor was inches away from keeping Dylan Byrne’s puck-out in play, with the line ball that followed under the stand batted out of play by Willie Devereux.

What followed was one of the best moments of this energy-sapping eight-week championship, as Jonny Dwyer stepped up and, from all of 50 yards, he sent a beauty between the posts to leave Ferns with a 1-20 to 0-21 lead.

The finishing line was in sight, but they weren’t quite there yet. Jack O’Connor was fouled from the puck-out and Joe Coleman registered his tenth point, but James Lawlor’s puck-out was the last strike of an afternoon when a long-held dream became a beautiful reality for Ferns St. Aidan’s.

Captain Declan Byrne ticked all the right boxes in a fine speech, acknowledging the huge part played by St. Martin’s in this absorbing game first and foremost before later reserving a special word for the recently-deceased Tom Guinan and Jack Byrne, two club legends. Hopefully they had the best seats in heaven to witness a win that would have meant the world to both inspiring men.

Ferns St. Aidan’s: James Lawlor; Declan Byrne (capt.), Niall Murphy, Patrick Breen (1-0); Ciarán Roberts, Eoin Murphy, James Tonks (0-1); Rory Scallan, Tommy Dwyer; Chris Turner, Ian Byrne (0-5, 3 frees, 1 ’65), Jonny Dwyer (0-4, 1 line ball); Diarmuid Doyle (0-2), Paul Morris (0-3, 1 free), Corey Byrne-Dunbar (0-3). Subs. – Benny Jordan (0-1) for Byrne, inj. (38), John Breen for Turner (41), Christopher O’Connor (0-1) for Doyle (57), Ryan Nolan for Scallan (60+1), Turner for Byrne-Dunbar, temp. (60+2-60+4), also Michael Walsh, Paddy O’Hagan, Brian O’Neill, Conor O’Toole, Brian Stafford, Peter O’Toole, Seb Rynhart, Peter Nolan, Barry Murphy, Pádraig Kinsella, Conor Scallan, Gavin Bailey.

St. Martin’s: Dylan Byrne; Diarmuid O’Leary, Conor Firman (capt.), Philip Dempsey; Patrick O’Connor, Joe Barrett (0-1), David Codd; Mark Maloney, Jake Firman (0-1); Luke Kavanagh (0-1), Aaron Maddock (0-1), Joe Coleman (0-10, 7 frees, 2 ’65s); Kyle Firman (0-5), Jack Devereux (0-2), Mikey Coleman (0-1). Subs. – Darren Codd for Devereux (42), Willie Devereux for Kavanagh (49), Jack O’Connor for M. Coleman (52), Daithí Waters for Maloney (54), also Christopher Ryan, Eoin O’Leary, Conor Kelly, Paudie Kelly, Zac Firman, Jamie Berry, Shane Walsh, Zach Breslin, Rory Devereux, Brian Codd, Joe Mernagh.

Referee: Eamonn Furlong (Rapparees).


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