Ballyduff and Fourmile' set for relegation dogfight

TWO of Waterford's most renowned hurling clubs find themselves in the last chance saloon this weekend, with one destined to surrender their senior championship status for 2005.

In a winner-takes-all relegation play-off at Dungarvan's Fraher Field on Sunday (2.30pm), Ballyduff Upper and Fourmilewater will engage in a survival battle likely to be as intense as any county final.

For the victors there's the guarantee of a place in the top flight next season, for the losers the uninviting prospect will be at least a year in the intermediate grade.

Last year, Fourmilewater proved the surprise packet of the championship when battling their way to the semi-final, only to lose out to Ballygunner.

Now, their very survival as a senior club is on the line.

Much of the sparkle of 2003 has been absent this year, but they will fight to the death to avoid the drop.

Ballyduff found themselves in a similar situation two years ago but victory over neighbours Shamrocks ensured they remained among hurling's elite in the county.

However, they have struggled this year in the aftermath of the departure of their star player, county defender Tom Feeney, who threw in his lot with Cork club Sarsfields.

They lost the first relegation eliminator against Abbeyside last Saturday, but there will be no further chances to save their bacon if they go under to Fourmilewater.

The great days of the 1980s when Ballyduff won two senior championships (1982 and 1987) are a distant memory.

Powered by Mossie Walsh and Seamie Hannon, the club contested seven finals, including two replays (losing both to Mount Sion and Roanmore) in that decade.

Incredibly, there are still four survivors from that 1987 championship-winning side.

The quartet are goalkeeper Michael Leamy, wing-back Donal Hannon, midfielder Paudie Prendergast and Mossy Casey, who came on as a second-half sub against Abbeyside last weekend.

Fourmilewater retain the whole panel of players that reached the penultimate round last year, and in Brian Wall and Liam Lawlor, they have two county senior panellists.

Pat and Shane Walsh also have senior inter-county experience, while Rory Rice and Declan Spellman are other top class players on a side no one could have anticipated being involved in this survival dogfight.

With the stakes this high, Sunday's game will be fiercely contested and the fans can look forward to a rousing battle.

Fourmilewater are favourites and should prevail, but Ballyduff can be expected to mount a mighty challenge and their chances should not be completely discounted.

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