The Galway champions displayed serious resolve to book their spot in the All-Ireland decider as they were forced to play with 14 men for over 40 minutes of normal time.
Corner-forward Seamie Rabbitte was shown a red card in the 19th minute for an off the ball incident involving corner-back Michael B Murphy, at a juncture when St James lead 0-4 to 0-2.
But despite that personnel disadvantage, St James coped admirably in normal time and indeed it was Gneeveguilla who required an injury-time free by Liam Murphy to send this encounter into extra-time. However with 15 men at their disposal again in extra-time, St James were able to take control and they closed out the match in a confident fashion.
St James county senior stars Paul Conroy and Eoin Concannon played huge roles in fashioning this victory. Conroy helped establish a foothold around the middle while also grabbing three points. Concannon emerged as the team’s go-to guy up front as he claimed six points, providing scores for his team at vital stages.
But St James victory was not all down to the input of their star men. Mark Kelly was outstanding at midfield while Shane Coughlan, Alan Deacy and Johnny Duane were to the fore in an impressive defensive performance.
This game was always set to be a stern test for Gneeveguilla as they met the strongest opponents they had faced in this campaign. The East Kerry side were unable to replicate the powerful form that had seen them sweep through the Munster championship before Christmas. John Paul Brosnan and Michael Murphy kept driving the team on until the finish while Liam Murphy emerged as their leading attacker as he wound up with six points to his name.
However Murphy lacked support in the scoring department as the Gneeveguilla forwards struggled to break free of the St James rearguard.
St James opened in a bright fashion as their slick play caused problems for Gneeveguilla. With Concannon to the fore up front, St James stormed into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead by the 12th minute. Gneeveguilla were spurning scoring opportunities but the complexion of the game changed when Rabbitte was dismissed by referee Rory Hickey. Concannon knocked over a couple of frees to give St James some respite but a Gneeveguilla scoring revival inspired by Liam Murphy left them only trailing 0-6 to 0-5 at the interval.
The second-half was a scrappy affair but points by Conroy looked to have put St James on course for success entering the final quarter. Gneeveguilla pounded the St James defence in the closing minutes and were eventually rewarded when Murphy levelled the game with that late free. However with the full complement of players restored in extra-time, St James were the superior force and late scores by Concannon and Duane clinched their passage through to the final.
Scorers for St James: E Concannon 0-6 (three frees); P Conroy 0-3 (two frees); S Rabbitte, R O’Connell, J Duane 0-1 each.
Scorers for Gneeveguilla: L Murphy 0-7 (five frees); DJ O’Connor, B O’Leary, B Sheehan 0-1 each.
ST JAMES: J Egan; S Coughlan, A Deacy, C Glynn; J Burke, J Duane, T Walsh; P Conroy, M Kelly; M Elwood, E Concannon, S Donnellan; R O’Connell, A O’Donnell, S Rabbitte.
Subs: B Dooney for O’Connell (51), S Boyle for Donnellan (59), D O’Connell for O’Donnell (60), M McCormack for Elwood (77).
GNEEVEGUILLA: P O’Riordan; B Sheehan, E Lawlor, MB Murphy; Danny O’Connor, P O’Connor, J Sheahan; JP Brosnan, D Murphy; M Murphy, F McAuliffe, B O’Leary; DJ O’Connor, L Murphy, Donie O’Connor.
Subs: R McAuliffe for O’Leary (40), T O’Leary for Danny O’Connor (40), D Murphy for Donie O’Connor (58), M Sheahan for D Murphy (65), Donie O’Connor for Sheahan (65), D Murphy for P O’Connor (78).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).