The Rathgormack panel that defeated Stradbally in their Co. SFC Semi-final. Next up is a final meeting with Rathgormack in the Fraher Field on Sunday. Photos: Sean Byrne.
Sunday Next – Fraher Field 3.30 p.m. J. J. Kavanagh & Sons Co. S.F.C. Final – Ballinacourty V Rathgormack
It is fair to say that the Senior Football Championship really caught fire this year in the knockout stages with the biggest crowds for some years turning out for the quarter finals and semi-finals in Fraher Field. On Sunday next that trend can be expected to continue with the meeting of Ballinacourty and Rathgormack in the senior final for the very first time.
While this will be the first meeting of the clubs in a senior final a healthy rivalry exists between both as a result of clashes at minor and U-21 levels. This year they met in the inaugural U-19 Football final with victory going to Ballinacourty while their previous final meeting was in the 2015 U-21 decider which Rathgormack won on a score of 1-12 to 0-9 to take the club’s third U-21 title in five years. Nine of that Rathgormack side lined out in last Sunday’s semi-final against Stradbally while seven of the Ballinacourty side figured in their semi-final win over The Nire.
RATHGORMACK NO OVERNIGHT SENSATION
Clearly then, Rathgormack have not arrived at this point overnight. The club has worked hard at underage level to get back to the top in Waterford football as befits a club with a long and colourful history. Between 1909 and 1918 Rathgormack won five county Senior Football titles and had to wait 77 years for a sixth title in 1995. In the intervening period the club moved in and out of the higher grades, winning the Junior title in 1934 and 1964. The 1965 Rathgormack side competed in the Intermediate grade, reached the county final but lost out to none other than Sunday’s opponents, Ballinacourty. After winning the Intermediate championship in 1975 they were soon relegated again but bounced back to senior in 1984 and have been there ever since.
After a long absence Rathgormack were back on the senior roll of honour with victory in the 1995 final over Kilrossanty. On their first foray into Munster they were beaten by Tipperary champions Moyle Rovers. One year later they retained the county title with a win over Gaultier, the last time two Eastern teams met in a senior football decider, and went on to beat Moyle Rovers in Munster and so qualify for a Munster semi-final against Laune Rangers of Kerry in Fraher Field. Rathgormack turned in a great performance and had the game won but for some terrible decisions by the Cork referee that gifted the Kerry side a draw in a long period of added time. The replay was in Killarney under the same official with everything unashamedly going the way of the Kerry side who went on to win the Munster title.
After failing to reach the final in the following two years Rathgormack were back in ’99 to defeat Stradbally in the final and once again they defeated Moyle Rovers in Munster to set up a semi-final meeting with a star studded U.C.C. side in Dungarvan. Once more the Waterford champions were deprived of outright victory in much the same manner as three years earlier and again lost out in the replay in Pairc Ui Rinn to the eventual Munster champions.
That was a great Rathgormack side made up of outstanding footballers such as the Powers, Richie, Martin, Declan and Sean, Joe Murray, Brendan Curry and the Crottys. They had their swan song when losing the 2001 final to a Stradbally side setting out on their journey to five titles in a row and since then it has been all about getting back to where they will be on Sunday.
COURTY IN SEARCH OF A SEVENTH TITLE
Hurling had always taken centre stage in Abbeyside as the quest for that elusive first senior title continued down the years. The football wing of the club, Ballinacourty, had never won a senior title until a crop off talented young players came through the ranks in the seventies to win underage titles and, under the guidance of that great motivator Tony Mansfield, graduated to win three senior titles in 1978, ’79 and ’81 with wins over Clashmore, Ferrybank and Ardmore respectively. A football tradition had been established in The Burgery. Though a long lean period followed where senior titles were concerned history seemed to repeat itself in the noughties with the arrival of an exceptional group of dual players coming through the underage ranks to win titles and in their first senior football final appearance since 1981 Ballinacourty beat Ardmore in the final of 2007. A year later the club lost the senior hurling and senior football finals to De La Salle and The Nire respectively with virtually the same group of players. Since then Ballinacourty have contested five of the ten finals with two victories, beating Stradbally in 2011 and 2013.
Last year, 18 years on from their previous final appearance Kilrossanty came out of the pack to challenge the long held dominance of Stradbally, The Nire and Ballinacourty over a period that saw only two clubs besides that three contesting a final since Rathgormack in 2001, they being Tramore in 2003 and Ardmore in 2007. Having dismissed Stradbally in last year’s semi-final Kilrossanty could not follow through when it came to facing The Nire in the final and with Ballinacourty having seen off last year’s champions Nire it now falls to Rathgormack to make the breakthrough.
The Ballynacourty Senior Footballers before their Co. SFC semi-final win over defending champions, The Nire, in Fraher Field.
CRACKING FINAL IN STORE
Against Stradbally, Rathgormack played like a team with nothing to lose as they took the game to the favourites from the start, setting a pace that their opponents could not match. In goalkeeper Padraig Hunt they have a safe pair of hands and in front of him they have strong and resolute defenders who can break forward at pace in such as Conor Walsh, Willie Hahessy and Robbie Flynn. In midfield county star Michael Curry has an able partner in Tom Walsh while Conor Murray has emerged as the main man in the side showing boundless energy in popping up in defence, midfield and attack as the need arises. In attack, the pace and movement of the Currys, Jason and Stephen and the Powers Billy and James can stretch any defence to the full.
The semi-final between Ballinacourty and The Nire was a different type of game to that between Rathgormack and Stradbally. The clashes were tough and uncompromising throughout with one side then the other getting on top before Ballinacourty’s young guns stepped up to the plate in the closing stages to swing matters for their side. While Ballinacourty retain a hard core of experienced campaigners in Stephen Enright, Richie Foley Mark Ferncombe and Michael O’Halloran who have seen them through seven county finals it was the young kids on the block such as Brian Looby, John Elsted, Conor Prunty, Neil Montgomery, Sean Whelan-Barrett and ace free taker David Looby who saw them over the line. Like their Rathgormack counterparts they have the hunger to add senior medals to their underage ones.
Rathgormack will probably be unchanged from the side that beat Stradbally while Ballinacourty will most likely have the experienced Patrick Hurney back in action having served his one match suspension in the semi-final. Just where this game will be won and lost is difficult to say. Rathgormack have their potential match winner in Conor Murray and it can be taken that Ballinacourty will be well aware of that and will be taking steps to contain him. On the other hand the Rathgormack defence will need to be alert to the threat of the experienced Mark Ferncombe backed up by the work rate of the flying Neil Montgomery.
Rathgormack are primed for this game. They have prepared well and, for the most part, know they are facing players they have had the better of at underage level. Having seen off The Nire Ballinacourty will not be short on confidence going into this game but their confidence will be tempered with caution.
Both sides will be looking to get their matchups right on the day and in that regard Ballinacourty’s experience of the big day, on field and on the line could decide the issue. There can be no doubt but that Rathgormack will be well up for this game but so too will Ballinacourty and their experience in winning and losing senior finals should give them the edge, leaving Rathgormack to come back another day for that title win that will be theirs, but not on Sunday.