The colours of black and yellow can put any Wexford man on notice…
They populate our shops and restaurants detailing what we can and can’t do during this pandemic. They cover the backs of the various bees and wasps which threaten to ruin any backyard barbeque and if you squint, it reminds you of our neighbours to the west and the many bad days in Nowlan Park.
Now, the black and yellow serves as a new warning, one that relates the danger of messing with the Shelmaliers Senior Footballers.
The men from Curracloe, Screen and Castlebridge are on fire in this year’s championship. They contain a miserly defence which has conceded just 14 points in their last two games. Combine that with enough firepower to kill off any opposition in a timely fashion and you have a formidable side indeed.
New coach John Hegarty has inherited a squad that has disappointed in recent seasons. The local chat over the water is that they left a double behind them last year. The heavy defeat in the semi final to eventual champions Starlights wasn’t what we were used to seeing from Shels. Former Kilanerin man, Hegarty, has bottled up that frustration and put it to good use in this year’s tournament.
They now win games pulling up. Mark Fanning’s red card ended Glynn Barntown’s chances in the quarters while HWH Bunclody never matched the level of ruthlessness displayed by the Wexford district side last weekend. A fact perfectly encapsulated by Glen Malone’s goal following a flowing move reminiscent of peak Wenger’s Arsenal.
They swarm and suffocate teams with a high press that cuts off any chance of a cohesive attack. Lead by the impenetrable James Cash, this is a team that enjoys the grimy work in defence right from the word go. Evergreen man Brian Malone will soon need a statue in his honour for services to the big ball in the county and the run and strike while falling over for a score against Bunclody shows that this man is not ready for the end just yet.
The transitions from defence into attacking football have been astounding at times. This is undoubtedly helped by the speed of Kyle Roche and Padraig O’Leary who look like real finds out in Hollymount.
The Shelmaliers, more so than any other team, make the most of the water breaks as they can catch the enemy off guard to quickly put a chasm on the scoreline. Interestingly, only one team has breached Craig McCabe’s goal this year and will be more than capable of doing so again with the title on the line.
Gusserane’s appearance in this year’s decider is only a shock to those who haven’t been paying attention. This is a squad with bags of experiences and enough hurt to put the bad times of the past to the back of their minds. Sunday represents a fourth county final in the last decade for the South Wexford men but they only have 2016’s one point win over Glynn to show for their hard work.
They’ve had to come through some battles this year already and certainly come in with more miles on the clock. Putting the Castletown ghosts to bed in the last 8 was a huge step forward mentally and they dealt with the deep running threat that made St Martins so dangerous by locking the door and winning key battles in midfield. You always have a chance with Mark Rossiter in your team and his semi final finish is looking like a good omen for county fans who are hoping for a promotion push in 2022.
There must be a secret fountain of youth driving on the older heads because they have been transformed this season. Kenneth Cahill has been at the heart of everything positive about the Gusserane attack and he’s really been rolling back the years. Adrian “Panther” Flynn is operating further from the opposition 21 than we’re used to seeing but is taking the quarterback role in his stride. The Bageera in yellow and blue is proving to be a vital mentor and provider for the man cubs up front.
As mentioned, Gusserane found a way to raise green flags against Shelmaliers in round one and will need to do so again. In this sense, Sean “Mini” Ryan is the perfect foil for Rossiter and will have the legs to give the Shels defence the run around and create space to exploit. Also a word for midfielder Paraic Conway who has chipped in at crucial times and will need to have another strong performance to stop the runs at source.
Overall, Shelmaliers came out on top 1-18 to 2-11 when these sides opened their campaigns last month and that has to give them the edge. A lot of ball has been played since then and they look calmer and more confident in the 4 games since. Gusserane have shown that they can break hearts when it counts, and if they stay in touch with 10 to go, they’re in with a great shout.
It’s sure to be a high scoring game with quality on show from both sides. I’m tipping the Shelmaliers to come through in a thriller.
There’s more than one important final taking place this weekend though.
Below, Wexford Weekly columnist Aidan Delaney also looks at the other finals and offers his predictions:
SFC Relegation Finals:
Horeswood v St James’
Sarsfields v St Mogue’s Fethard
I expect the Woodies to edge the first game and send the Jimmies to Intermediate in Bellefield. Fethard have shown good performances against both county finalists and should doom the Wexford Town men to the division below.
Intermediate Football Final:
St Mary’s Maudlintown v Crossabeg/Ballymurn
Mary’s came through a fascinating battle with Duffry Rovers on penalites, but their exploits might give them a disadvantage against a Crossabeg side that looks ready made for Senior Football again.
Senior Ladies Football Final:
Shelmaliers v Clonee
Shels have been the dominant force of women’s football for the last few years and will take some stopping from taking home another senior title.
Intermediate Ladies Final:
Kilanerin v Ballygarret
There’s plenty of All Ireland finalists on show in this one and Sherene Hamilton should inspire the Realt Na Mara girls to victory.
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