De­cem­ber dates for county fi­nals look hard to avoid

With Alan Ah­erne

Wexford People - - SPORT - In Ross Road, En­nis­cor­thy

IGOT a clear glimpse of what I ex­pect the fu­ture to be like in my choice of game to at­tend last Sunday. With nothing ma­jor on in­side the county, I quickly ruled out a trip to Port­laoise for the AIB Le­in­ster Club hurl­ing fi­nal as I didn’t fore­see it be­ing any sort of a con­test. For once I was right as Cuala romped home against an out­classed Kil­cor­mac-Kil­loughey.

The need to be home as early as pos­si­ble in order to work pre­vented a jour­ney to Gal­way to wit­ness Liam Mel­lows mak­ing his­tory and see­ing off Gort to win a first Se­nior hurl­ing ti­tle since 1970.

The up­shot was that I popped down to Fra­her Field in Dun­gar­van where a thor­oughly ab­sorb­ing Water­ford Se­nior foot­ball fi­nal ended in a one-point win for Strad­bally over long-stand­ing ri­vals The Nire af­ter ex­tra-time.

I have at­tended sev­eral games be­tween these clubs as they’ve met in eight de­ciders over 16 years, and their ri­valry is al­ways com­pelling.

What rel­e­vance has a county fi­nal in a neigh­bour­ing county to Wex­ford you may well ask, apart from the in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tion that the Strad­bally back­room team in­cluded ex-county boss Ja­son Ryan who was also involved with Tagh­mon-Cam­ross this year?

Well, while I hope I’m wrong, I firmly be­lieve that the new in­ter-county fix­tures for­mat will re­sult in the de­lay of more and more do­mes­tic club de­ciders un­til this time of year.

Water­ford de­cided to park their Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship for a spell af­ter their All-Ire­land loss, play­ing hurl­ing on suc­ces­sive week­ends to en­sure they had a representative in the Mun­ster club cham­pi­onship. They had to sacri­fice foot­ball in­volve­ment in the prov­ince as a re­sult but, be­fore crit­i­cis­ing the Déise folk for that de­ci­sion, ask your­self if our re­ac­tion would be any dif­fer­ent in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances?

Our last di­rect link with a Se­nior All-Ire­land was in 1996, but the club scene was dif­fer­ent then be­cause it was a straight knock­out. And even at that, Ki­lanerin were nom­i­nated to rep­re­sent the county in foot­ball and ac­tu­ally lost a Le­in­ster semi-fi­nal to St. Sylvester’s from Malahide one week af­ter sur­ren­der­ing their county ti­tle to Glynn-Barn­town.

That nom­i­nat­ing fa­cil­ity is no longer open to coun­ties for the Se­nior grades, but it may have to be re-vis­ited if nu­mer­ous dead­lines are missed in 2018 and provin­cial cham­pi­onship are thread­bare.

In fair­ness to Gal­way, apart from their All-Ire­land win, their hurl­ing cham­pi­onship was de­layed con­sid­er­ably due to a lengthy ap­peals process af­ter Tur­lough­more were re­moved for field­ing an in­el­i­gi­ble player. And, be­cause they have no Con­nacht in­volve­ment, it’s not un­usual for their fi­nals to be held late in the year and what­ever club emerges - in this case Liam Mel­lows - will be thank­ful for play­ing on the same day as their next op­po­nents, Cuala.

It galls me when I hear ad­min­is­tra­tors from coun­ties with lit­tle or no com­pet­i­tive hurl­ing in­sist­ing that the new fix­tures struc­ture will ben­e­fit clubs, while adding that there will be no ex­cuse for com­plet­ing cham­pi­onships on time.

On the con­trary, the po­ten­tial pit­falls are ev­ery­where. I’ve al­ready raised one in a re­cent col­umn: do you hon­estly think that two rounds apiece of club hurl­ing and foot­ball will be com­pleted next April, be­cause I most cer­tainly don’t. All-Ire­lands in Au­gust won’t nec­es­sar­ily help the club situation ei­ther.

Once again, there are clear par­al­lels with Water­ford. Strad­bally are proud dual club­men, while The Nire play Se­nior hurl­ing un­der the Four­mile­wa­ter ban­ner. Bal­li­na­courty have been the only team to threaten their dual dom­i­nance since the turn of the mil­len­nium, and they’re a sis­ter club of the Abbey­side hurlers just out­side Dun­gar­van.

It’s an ex­actly sim­i­lar story here, with suc­cess­ful clubs in one code tend­ing to do equally as well in the other. As a re­sult, it will take twice as long to fin­ish our do­mes­tic cham­pi­onships, and I have yet to see a work­able so­lu­tion of­fered to this. I’m sure it will be quite easy for Ca­van, for ex­am­ple, to com­plete their foot­ball cham­pi­onships in 2018, given that their cur­rent Se­nior hurl­ing com­pe­ti­tion at­tracted three clubs, and one gave a semi-fi­nal walkover.

Fer­managh will find it handy enough, too, with just one adult hurl­ing club left (Lis­bellaw), but gen­uine dual coun­ties like Wex­ford and Water­ford have ma­jor dif­fi­cul­ties that can­not be ig­nored. EN­NIS­COR­THY MUST re­main in de­fi­ant mood if they are to main­tain their chal­lenge for hon­ours de­spite the con­ces­sion of a late try to lead­ers Ash­bourne in this hugely en­ter­tain­ing Le­in­ster League Di­vi­sion 1A game at Ross Road, En­nis­cor­thy, on Satur­day.

While it ended as a day of woe through the con­ces­sion of that late bonus point, when the vis­i­tors were awarded an 80th-minute penalty try, the home side can still take a lot more from this game. They were the su­pe­rior side for the most part, which made the con­ces­sion of that late try all the more dif­fi­cult to ac­cept.

Go­ing into this game, En­nis­cor­thy were six points adrift of the Meath side, so a vic­tory was im­per­a­tive if they were to main­tain a ti­tle chal­lenge. In­deed, had the vis­i­tors taken all points the des­ti­na­tion of the league would have been but all de­cided.

But still Ash­bourne will be happy to have taken a bonus point, given where they came from in the dy­ing min­utes, trail­ing 18-6 as the game moved to­wards ad­di­tional time.

This bonus point could yet have a cru­cial say in the even­tual des­ti­na­tion of the ti­tle, but with En­nis­cor­thy now just three points adrift, on 32 to their op­po­nents’ 35, they are still very much in the hunt for hon­ours.

Ash­bourne started promis­ingly with some dan­ger­ous early moves. Straight from the start they forced their op­po­nents to de­fend on their own line.

Hav­ing been held up short with sev­eral drives, they de­cided to move the ball along the line, with left wing Matt Con­nolly bun­dled into touch by his op­po­site num­ber David O’Dwyer at the cor­ner flag.

En­nis­cor­thy warmed up nicely to the task on hand, go­ing on to have the better of the ex­changes and some smart kick­ing from out-half Kil­lian Lett forced the vis­i­tors deep into their own ter­ri­tory.

A neat kick through the de­fence saw Ivan Ja­cob beaten in a race for the touch­down, but with Lett con­tin­u­ing to pin the vis­i­tors in­side their own ‘22, they forced a five-me­tre line-out.

Hav­ing won clean ball, they ini­ti­ated a tremen­dous drive, only to be held out close to the posts

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