Battle of little villages will be titanic tussle

THE St Patrick’s Day All-Ireland club senior championships this year threw four big towns together, Athenry and James Stephens (city-based in Kilkenny) in the hurling, Ballina Stephenites and Portlaoise in football.

The junior decider this Monday in Portlaoise is a battle of the little villages, Finuge of Kerry against Stewartstown, with the latter claiming to be one of the smallest clubs in Tyrone. “I don’t care how small they say they are,” says Finuge manager Maurice Leahy.

“Finuge is smaller. One pub and a statue, to the great poet Seán McCarthy, that’s all there is, that and the football club.” Technically, Maurice is correct, but there is a little addendum.

Finuge, in the heart of hurling country in north Kerry, is actually one half of a dual club; their hurlers campaign with neighbouring Lixnaw (successfully, let it be added), and that favour is returned to Finuge by the footballers of Lixnaw, both villages being part of the one parish.

Through this arrangement Finuge have the services of Kerry seniors Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Paul Galvin, both of whom won All-Ireland senior medals with the county last year.

Eamonn and Paul are not the only ones with senior football All-Irelands on the panel, that feat is matched by Enda Galvin and Eamonn Breen. The fiery Breen, a stalwart wing-back on Kerry teams of yore, is suspended for this game, a major disappointment for himself and a major loss to the team.

“I feel so sorry for him,” says Leahy, “Eamonn is the life and soul of Finuge, his heart is totally in it. He plays with a controlled aggression which I think typifies Kerry football, bursts out of defence with the ball, great to watch.

"He’s a loss, but still, he trains away with the team every night, he’ll be travelling up with us on Monday. A lot of the players will want to win it for him, he’s a true warrior.”

Neither are Fitzmaurice and Paul Galvin the only current senior Kerry players on the Finuge side.

“Michael Conway, John Griffin, Michael Conway, Paudie Lyons, all started with Kerry last Sunday, in the National Hurling League win over Wicklow; in fact, Paul Galvin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice would also make the hurling team if they wanted to, Paul in particular, he’s one of the most skilful hurlers this county ever produced.”

The irony of this Finuge side you see is that, believe it or not, they are probably a better hurling side than football, perennial contenders for the senior championship in Kerry.

This is not to diminish their worth as footballers, far from it. You don’t reach an All-Ireland football final at any level, club or county, unless you have talent. And Finuge have it in abundance.

“Maurice Corridon is one of the best midfielders in Kerry at the moment, at any grade, can’t be too far off the senior panel.

"Maybe when this is all over, Jack O’Connor might have a look at him. His partner in midfield, Conor Galvin, played for UCC the year they won the Cork senior championship, another fine footballer.

"Trevor McKenna at full-back, Brian Coleman and Raymond Galvin, a brother of Paul’s, were on the Kerry U21 team, all top-class players.

"We have a lot of Galvins on the team, eight in all, three different sets of brothers, and three Corridans, all brothers, every one of them a footballer.

"Currently, the team is going very well; since October, we’ve played 19 matches, won 18, so things have come together well. They’re a good side, a lot of high-calibre players, outside of those who are best known.”

By all accounts, they’re going to need every one of those players, and all playing at their best, to counteract a Stewartstown side determined on creating their own slice of history.

No Tyrone team has ever won a club All-Ireland, but with old rivals Pomeroy involved later in the intermediate final, the little village from the east side of the county is hell-bent on getting in first.

“It’s not something we ever thought about at the start of the year, even when we won the Junior Championship in Tyrone,” says captain and midfielder John Devlin. “But it’s there now and we’re going to go for it. It would be great to be the first Tyrone club to win an All-Ireland title.”

Stewartstown, too, have had a good recent run of form, their semi-final win over Ratoath was, according to manager Paddy Park, “the best half of football we have played this season.”

Final words to Leahy, and ominous words they are. “Tradition and ambition, those are the two vital ingredients, and football has it in Kerry, hurling doesn’t. All the players are hugely committed to this, including county players, they’ve put in a huge effort.”

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