IN A CHAMPIONSHIP season that started and finished in Ahiohill for St James, they reigned supreme in Carbery for the second time in four years. With a so-called ageing team, not many put the Ardfield/Rathbarry club amongst the favourites ahead of throw-in for the 2022 Bandon Co-op Carbery junior A football championship.
They waited in the long grass, then pounced when the time was right.
The recent divisional final epitomised what this club is all about, with their never-say-die attitude and play-to-the-whistle approach. Their reward is a county junior quarter-final meeting with Muskerry champions Kilmurry.
Crucially though, it means county premier junior football for 2023, joining a list of notable sides. Not many would have predicted this at the start of the year but that dream has now become a reality.
Different players have stepped up to the plate in every round. Aaron Hayes in the group stage. James O’Driscoll in the quarter-final win over Ballinascarthy. Alan O’Shea against St Mary’s in the last four.
Against Argideen Rangers in the final, it was Frank Hayes, who scored four crucial points. Ian Evans coming on also made an impact with two frees pushing them further in front. That’s why they’re champions – big players stepping up in crucial moments.
While other sides in the competition had one or two standouts, St James’ whole team stood up when needed in every game.
Even against a solid Argideen defence coming into the final, they scored the first five points inside 11 minutes. They realised that this game wasn’t one to hit the net instantly, it was one for kicking points and keeping the scoreboard ticking.
The Ardfield men showed their experience in knowing what to do against a massed defence. They set out a plan, and it worked down to a tee.
Argideen conceded an average of almost ten points per game heading into the final, and St James’ topped that by scoring 0-11. They had the wind in the first half but only scored 0-5 from a possible 12 shots and failed to score in the final 20 minutes of the half.
Things weren’t exactly clicking shooting wise and the Ardfield/Rathbarry side could have struggled. The second half by comparison – nine shots, six scored.
St James’ calmness under pressure was impeccable. The subs coming on added composure, Ian Evans and Paul O’Sullivan particularly with player/manager Alan O’Shea also playing his part.
Argideen only hit four shots in the first half, converting two. That was mainly down to the fact they were passing the ball around, waiting for a gap. There was none, as James, who had one of the worst defensive records coming into the final, performed on the day which mattered most.
The victors won a total of ten turnovers in the first half alone, eight of those inside their own 45m line. Their tacking was absolutely superb and they didn’t allow the young Rangers forwards sufficient time on the ball. Argideen struggled for scores.
The black card for Argideen’s Padraig Butler was also a big factor in the 38th minute. During that time, St James took the initiative and outscored Rangers by 0-4 to 0-1 in those ten minutes.
This is a young Argideen side that will develop but it seemed like the recent final was a bit too soon for them. With St James now out of the picture in the Carbery JAFC, maybe next year will be the year for this young crop. They have the talent, and now they have the experience of a Carbery final to lean on, as painful as it may be.
For now though, this is St James’ time. James’ moment. James’ year. They go now and compete in the county championship, a competition where they excelled in 2019. Losing that eventual final to Kilshannig would’ve hurt. Can they redeem themselves, going one further and winning it? They’ve caused a surprise in Carbery. Can they do likewise in the county? Time will tell.