Waterford’s epic club championship finally reaching closure

For the fourth time in six seasons, the decisive afternoon of the Dublin senior football championship has spilled into November. Saturday’s decider between Castleknock and St Vincent’s, though, won’t be the last county senior final staged in 2016.
Waterford’s epic club championship finally reaching closure

No, that badge of poor scheduling is to be worn by Waterford.

On Sunday at Fraher Field (2.45pm), The Nire and Ballinacourty will clash in the Waterford SFC final - seven months after the opening round.

Mind you, it pales by comparison with the county’s IFC. The Waterford board last week informed Munster Council that the winners of said competition would not be crowned in time for the provincial quarter-final, with Limerick champions Adare subsequently handed a walkover.

There was also the local intermediate hurling championship, the final of which was played last Friday night. Fast-forward 48 hours and newly crowned champions Lismore were back inside the whitewash for a Munster quarter-final clash with Bandon.

Waterford’s fixture-planners are making an unhealthy habit of cutting it fine with last year’s senior football final between Stradbally and Ballinacourty played 23 hours before the Waterford champions were due to meet Nemo Rangers in the Munster quarter-final.

Stradbally emerged as Déise representatives but were soundly beaten by the Cork champions, 1-13 to 0-5, the following evening. Stradbally manager Pat Curran didn’t hold back when speaking to reporters after the defeat.

“It is an absolute disgrace that Stradbally had to play here tonight. The Waterford County Board should be ashamed of themselves,” he remarked. “The football clubs in the county will have to stand up and get things right for their own players. I admire the hurling clubs, they paddle their own canoe. They fight their corner. The football clubs have to stand up now and the county board have to get their arse in gear.”

Ballinacourty selector Neil Moore reckons a similar situation could have again materialised had the Waterford champions not been drawn in the Munster semis. “Our championship wouldn’t have been finished in time to have a representative for the Munster club quarter-finals,” he said.

The format of the Waterford SFC begins with two groups of six, the top four teams in both then advance to the quarter-finals. Ballinacourty’s opening two fixtures were played on April 15 and 23, but there followed a three-month lay-off to their next game. Tools were downed again between September 11 and October 14 as the various hurling championship took centre stage. It all contributed to one big burst for the line and Sunday’s game represents a fourth in as many weeks for the two finalists.

For the winners, there is a fifth consecutive weekend of action to look forward to - away to Carbery Rangers.

“It is absolutely crazy,” Moore said of the seven months it has taken to reach the finishing post.

“The structure of the championship is outdated. Two groups of six in the hurling is fine, but there aren’t enough weekends to have the same structure in the football. It isn’t fair on players to be dragging out the season for so long. They should be able to finish up the year a bit earlier so players have a half-decent break. You’re into the first week of November now and most clubs will be back in January. Club players are getting less and less time off.

“To be fair to the board, they will say that the league final replay and All-Ireland semi-final replay took two weekends from them, added to the U21 hurlers going so well. It still is taking too long to finish the football championships. Some clubs are reluctant to change the structure, but realistically, two groups of six definitely needs to change. The attendances at the group fixtures are desperately low. The public are not interested.”

Ballinacourty are chasing a seventh title overall, while this particular crop are bidding to add to the 2011 and 2013 wins. Crucial to their progress this season has been the decision of Dubai-based Shane Briggs to fly home for their last five outings.

“Shane is 34 and owes the club nothing. But he continues to do that. It is phenomenal.”

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