Thomas Keane previews next weekend’s County Senior Football Final between
Rathgormack and Ballinacourty
A new chapter in the history of football in Waterford will begin on Sunday next with the playing of this year’s County Senior Football Final between Rathgormack and Ballinacourty, as the pair meet at this stage of the competition for the first time. Of course both clubs would have played at different stages in the championship down the years, but the fact that they are playing for the biggest piece of silverware when it comes to football within the county should mean that both clubs will not be lacking support, and the officers will be hoping for favourable weather conditions to attract the neutrals to Fraher Field, which could result in a record gate receipt for the board.
While both Stradbally and last year’s champions The Nire will be disappointed to lose out at the semi-final stages, it has to be considered a good thing for the game in the county that there is a change in who will contest the final. Every year since Ballinacourty beat Ardmore to win the final in 2007, either Stradbally or The Nire or both have contested the final.
Rathgormack’s involvement is particularly welcome. Their involvement coupled with Kilrossanty’s appearance in last year’s final would suggest that the gap between the often called ‘big three’ and the next best three or four clubs is closing, something that has to be for the betterment of the game in the Déise County. The primary aim when it comes to football in Waterford over the last number of years is to get out of Division Four of the National league, something that has not happened since John Owens was in charge of Waterford some years back when his side moved up a grade for one season, and if Waterford are to make progress in the purposed second tier championship which will be debated in Cork this coming weekend, it can only really happen when Waterford have more teams able to compete against each other at the very top level within the county.
There is no disputing that the two better sides emerged from this year’s semi-finals played in Dungarvan.Rathgormack were full value for their six-point win over Stradbally and in truth could and should have won by an even bigger margin.Ballinacourty too were the better of the two sides even if they conceded an early goal against The Nire and despite what was a disappointing third quarter, they produced a strong finish to run out deserved winners.
Rathgormack were a joy to watch in their semi-final. Football at times can be very hard on neutrals to watch as coaches get players behind the ball at all times, but Rathgormack ran and ran and ran more at the Stradbally players and it paid off for them with the likes of Billy Power, Jason Curry and Conor Murray kicking some good scores.
Ballinacourty are arguably the best-balanced side within the county. In their semi-final win over The Nire they started without Patrick Hurney, who was suspended, and also without Shane Briggs from the start but he did come on late in that game. Both are hugely experienced players and would normally walk onto any side in the county and even beyond, but Peter Queally’s charges had more than enough as a backup to fill in for both players.
Right throughout the team there is strength starting from Stephen Enright in goal to David Looby in the number 15 shirt, and as we have seen in the recent past they have players in the stand that have won county medals as starters in almost all grades when it comes to football, something few other sides can claim to have.
But the same could well be said of their opponents this coming weekend. Just as there is strength from 1 to 15 with Ballinacourty there is also with Rathgormack, starting with Padraig Hunt who was one of a number of different goalkeepers used by Benji Whelan this year right through to their inside forward line and like Ballinacourty in their semi-final win, Rathgormack were able to spring experienced players like Ronan Cahill, Ronan Crotty and John Kirwan from their bench late on in their win over Stradbally. To reach this final both have impressed along the way.
Ballinacourty won Group C with maximum points from their three group games beating Brickey Rangers and An Rinn before getting a walk over from Gaultier in their final game.
Rathgormack played in Group A where they finished in second place beating Clashmore and Ardmore in their opening two fixtures before losing out to The Nire in their last group game. As best of the second placed teams they advanced as the fourth team to automatically play in the quarter-finals. In those quarter final games Ballinacourty had an extra time win over last year’s runners up Kilrossanty while Rathgormack beat Gaultier.
In the semi-finals both looked impressive, particularly Rathgormack in beating Stradbally while Ballinacourty had to work hard at times to get the better of last year’s champions The Nire.
Both sides will go into the game believing that they can win this game. Many of the players will be very familiar with each other, having played against each other down the years on different underage teams. Whichever of these two sides advance to represent Waterford in the Munster Club Championship will do so with pride and will carry a realistic chance of having a good run in the competition. Who knows, they might even go on to be the first Waterford side to win the competition.
Down the years a number of the Waterford County Finals have resulted in a draw and there is a chance that this game could require another day to decide which team will take the Conway Cup home from Fraher Field. Two things are certain to happen on Sunday or whenever the competition is complete. There will be green ribbons on the cup, and it will cross over the River Colligan after leaving Fraher Field. But will it have white or red ribbons to go with the green ones and will the journey to where the celebrations will begin in earnest be a somewhat short journey into Abbeyside or a somewhat longer one under the Comeragh Mountains.
Experience could well prove to be a factor in this one, and if that is the case while Rathgormack have experience of winning underage County Finals in recent years, Ballinacourty have experience of contesting and winning finals at this level which could be one thing that could well go in their favour. They also look to have the stronger of the two benches and as we all know football is no longer a 15-man game and it now takes up to 19, 20 and even 21 men to win on the big days.