Waterford champions Stradbally are really going into the Lion’s den this Sunday when they travel to Cork to take on the Rebel kingpins Nemo Rangers in the semi-final of the Munster club championship.
There is no question that Stradbally are rank outsiders going into this game (throw-in at Páirc Ui Chaoimh is 2pm), as not only are they taking on a side that are the champions of the county that has just won the All-Ireland title but within Cork Nemo Rangers are a massively successful club. Since their first title in 1972, Nemo have added another 17 titles to put them at the top of the football roll of honour on Leeside. This total includes five titles won in the last six years.
Of course, it is not only in Cork that Nemo Rangers have been successful as they have also managed to claim a staggering 14 Munster club titles as well as an unprecedented 7 All-Ireland club crowns.
The current vintage of Nemo Rangers players is well able to stand beside the great teams of the past in terms of medals won. Paul Kerrigan and Derek Kavanagh all played a vital role in Cork’s All-Ireland success this season while Brian O’Regan was a member of the victorious panel.
Unlike a lot of club teams Nemo do not depend entirely on their county contingent to get them through games, and players of the experience of David Niblock and James Masters have contributed greatly to the success of this Rangers collective.
Just like their rivals this Sunday, Stradbally are no strangers to the Munster club championship. However, unlike their opponents Stradbally have never claimed the title, despite coming agonisingly close in 2004 when they lost out in a replay to Kilmurry-Ibrickane.
The following season, Stradbally came up against Nemo Rangers in the first round but were beaten by 1-14 to 0-10 in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. This year’s victory in the Waterford senior championship has been one of the sweetest for Stradbally as they were written off in many quarters. However, their injury problems subsided as the season reached its close and Stradbally once again proved too strong for the rest of Waterford.
Two weeks ago Stradbally convincingly overcame Clare champions Doonbeg when they visited Fraher Field. When Stradbally played in this competition 12 months ago, they were missing several key players, including their leading light and talisman Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh whose addition to this side gives them more than a fighting chance of shocking the Cork champions on Sunday.
There is no question that this is a stronger Stradbally side than last year, with the likes of Shane Lannon now also back after injury. Whether the Reds will be strong enough to beat a side of the calibre of Nemo remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, they will not be found wanting for effort.