The Nire recently won their seventh County Senior Football. It came twenty one years after they won their first and six years after they won their sixth title.
After winning that title, The Nire did not get to represent Waterford in the Munster Club Championship as the Championship ran late after a call was made to suspend all championship games where members of the Waterford Senior Hurling panel were involved in after they reached the All-Ireland Final for the first time since 1963.
The men from under the shadow of the North west slopes of the Comeragh Mountains won their fifth title two years earlier, one that gave them great satisfaction as it stopped their great rival over the past decade and a bit – Stradbally from becoming the first Waterford Club to win five senior football Championship’s in a row.
The win was a great confidence booster and they went on to play in the Munster Final that year against a Dr Crokes side from Kerry that included Colm ‘Gouch’ Cooper in a game that was played at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. On the day, The Nire played far better than anyone could have expected them to do, but had to settle for second best on the day, loosing out by a goal.
Having missed out on representing the county after their last win, and their latest win coming twenty-one years on from their first win, when they beat Dungarvan at a never to be forgotten day in Cappoquin in 1993, there can be no doubting that the side coached this year by Benjie Whelan will be going all out to win the championship this year, something if they achieve it would be a first for Waterford.
However to win that first Munster Senior Club Football Championship, the Nire will have a few more hurdles to get over before they cross the finish line.
The first of these hurdles comes this Sunday afternoon when they take on newly crowned Limerick Champions Ballylanders at Kilmallock.
Limerick football has come on a great deal in the last few years. They have appeared in Munster Finals and have also on a couple of occasions won one of the two places out of Division Four of the National Football league in recent years, and they will be one of three Munster teams to play in the third division of the league in 2015.
However, of Limerick’s most recognisable names when it comes to football, none of them come from the South Limerick Club.
This however does not take from the fact that the side are a good team and won this years championship on merit.
In their final played recently at Newcastlewest they always proved too strong for a Saint Patrick’s side that had beaten them earlier in the competition.
Within their ranks they have some excellent footballers including Jimmy Barry-Murphy, James Kirby, Danny Frewen, Eoin Walsh and Brian O’Connell as well net minder Ricky Slattery.
Like The Nire, Ballylanders head into this weekend’s game having played eight games in the championship.
The early stages of both counties senior football championship sees twelve teams split into two groups of six. The only difference between the Limerick and Waterford Championships is that in Limerick the top team in each group get a bye to the semi finals, and the second and third placed teams meet in the quarter finals, where as in Waterford the top four teams in the two groups advance to the quarter finals of the championship.
The South Limerick Club head into this weekend’s game with seven wins from their eight games under their belts.
They began their championship campaign with a 0-17 to 0-12 win over Moonaleen. Round two saw them record another five point win, this time beating Saint Mary’s/Sean Finn’s on a 2-11 to 1-9 score line.
Round three saw things prove to be much closer for Ballylanders as they beat a fancied Dromcollogher/Broadford side on a 0-11 to 0-9 score line, and in Round four of the league section of the competition things were much more clear cut as Ballylanders ran out 1-12 to 0-6 winners over Newcastlewest.
Ballylanders winning run came to an end in the last round of games in the league section of the championship when they went under to Saint Patrick’s on a score line of 1-10 to 1-9.
Four wins from five games gave them a place in the quarter finals where they were paired with Newcastlewest a side they ran out 2-9 to 0-11 winners over.
In the semi finals it was another game against Dromcollogher/Broadford who were beaten this time by four points on a 2-10 to 0-12 score line.
The County Final was a repeat of the last round of games in the league section of the competition against Saint Patrick’s.
Regular readers on here will be aware that I have a belief that the side that looses the first game in a game between two clubs in the same competition, the side that looses the first game is the one that I tend to favour the second day out.
Just one point separated the sides the first day in Saint Patrick’s favour but in the championship decider they had to settle for second best as Ballylanders proved to be the better sides winning by four points.
They held a 1-6 to 0-4 lead at the break, the goal coming midway through the second quarter from James Kirby which gave his side a 1-4 to 0-3 lead at the time.
While Saint Patrick’s started the second half the better of the two sides, a second Ballylanders goal on forty-three minutes, this time from Danny Frewen proved to be a crucial score, giving his side a 2-7 to 0-6 lead.
The eventual champions in the closing moments of the game did concede a goal from a Eoin Hanrahan effort but it proved to be a mere consolation score on the day for ‘The Saint’s’.
The Nire will head to Kilmallock on Sunday morning with a one hundred per cent win record at their backs in the championship.
In the first two games of the league section of the competition, they recorded two big wins, the first a 3-22 to 0-2 win over Ballinameela and then a 2-10 to 1-3 win over Saint Saviours.
Game three was always going to be a table topper game as they took on Stradbally, proving to be too strong for the Cove-men winning 3-11 to 3-6, a win that five minutes from time looked as though it would be much bigger but for a late Stradbally surge who eventually ran out of time to get even closer.
The 2013 Intermediate Champions De La Salle were beaten 2-15 to 0-8 in the fourth series of games and The Nire rounded off the league section of the championship with a 1-9 to 1-7 win over Gaultier.
The quarter final pairing’s saw The Nire pitted with their cross Comeragh Mountain neighbours Rathgormack a game they won 1-8 to 0-8 and in the semi finals they had to work very hard again to beat An Rinn on a 0-10 to 0-9 score line.
Heading into the County Final, Stradbally were the favourites to win in the eyes of many, as in recent county battles between the two ‘The Red’s’ had the upper hand of the two clubs.
However on the day The Nire proved to be the better of the teams with Conor Gleeson in his first senior final playing a pivotal roll in a 0-11 to 0-6 win.
After that game Conor Gleeson received some rave reviews and rightly so, as he put in a terrific performance, but he was not the only player to stand out on the day as Brian and Diarmuid Wall, their first Cousin Shane Ryan as well as Michael O’Gorman also stood out for the winners.
It was reported in recent days that members of the Ballylanders Club were in the stand in Fraher Field to see the game, and will be impressed with what they say.
No doubt in the two weeks since they will have tried to come up with a plan in trying to stop Conor Gleeson putting in another Man of the Match performance, but if they were to pay too much attention to one player, it could well allow other players to be the match winner on the day.
The bookies are making The Nire favourites to win this game, but it could well prove to be a close one.
Ballylanders have seven wins from eight games as already pointed out, The Nire have eight wins from eight games.
The Nire have hit twelve goals in their eight games to now, Ballylanders have hit ten. The South Limerick club have conceded three goals up to now, the West Waterford club have conceded five goals, three of which came in the one game.
Ballylanders have averaged just over fourteen point six points a game to now and conceded an average of ten point six. The Nire have faired a little better averaging sixteen point five scores on their side of the score sheet and have conceded eight points a game.
The bookies are seldom wrong but they do at times get things wrong, sometimes terribly wrong.
As a Waterford Supporter and someone that likes to see neighbouring clubs to my own win when my own club is not involved, let’s hope that this is one of these occasions that the bookies are right and the Nire will advance to a meeting with Clare champions Cratloe in the semi finals.
But for this to happen they will have to get over Ballylanders on Sunday, a game that could well prove to be close.