ST JAMES’ junior A footballers recently made history when they qualified for their first South West Junior A football championship final.
The progressive club who are based in the parishes of Ardfield and Rathbarry, defeated Argideen Rangers to secure their passage into the divisional final. Long-serving club secretary Liam Evans was thrilled with the manner of their narrow semi victory.
“It was a great win. We are a long time trying to qualify for our first Junior A final. It was a huge moment,” revealed the diligent club official.
St James exited the championship last season at the semi-final stage to eventual champions Kilmacabea.
“Our win against Argideen was massive as people in the club doubted whether we would ever reach a final. We used 19 players in the semi-final and 15 of those players are over 30. All of those players went to school together and most of them still live locally.
“They are great friends and they have a tight bond. All of these players were members of our team who won the Junior B hurling county title in 2005. They have a real hunger to win a divisional football championship title.”
The club have been operating in the A championship grade since the 2006 season.
“We have always been competitive but we have never won a Junior A football title. We were formed in 1892 so it is a long time without Junior A football championship success. We have the smallest catchment area in west Cork.
“We have a tiny area. Numbers are tight. Our total national school population is only 100 pupils. We are always punching above our weight.”
There is already a great sense of excitement in the parishes of Ardfield and Rathbarry ahead of their much anticipated divisional final appearance. Flags have been erected and green and yellow bunting has been displayed throughout the picturesque villages.
“There is a great sense of community within our area. We have always enjoyed great support from our community. All the various sporting organisations in our parish all receive great support. We are a very tight-knit community. We are a strong dual club.
“Most of our players play both football and hurling. They are great role models. There is a great buzz.”
St James have overcome serious problems with regards an alarming drop in playing numbers.
“We have been unable to field teams at U21, minor and U16 in recent years. This was a very serious development and left the club in a crisis.
“We have restructured. A lot of our junior players are involved with coaching underage teams. We fielded two U12 teams in hurling this year, which augurs well.
“We are hopeful they will continue to progress. A lot of hard work has gone in behind the scenes in recent years. We are providing great facilities and great coaching for our young players. A win in the final would be well-deserved for all our hard work.”
Getting the off-field structures has been key in the transition of the St James GAA Club.
“We have a very good committee. Our cultural officer has done great work in promoting Scór. We won three Carbery titles this year and reached the All-Ireland final in Scór.
“We have great people involved who are driving on with a lot of work behind the scenes.”
The ambitious club also possesses state-of-the-art facilities which are the envy of many clubs throughout the Carbery division.
“We have spent €1.4 million on improving our facilities in the last 15 years. Back in 2008, we built a sports hall and we bought land which we converted into a second pitch. We have great facilities. We have a top-class gym and a hurling wall. We have everything indoors, which means players can train throughout the year.”
St James GAA Club have won four Carbery divisional football titles throughout their history at Junior B level in 1946, 1948, 1981 and 2005. There is one survivor from the victorious 1948 team, Nealie O’Donovan.
“He is still going very strong. He will be at the final. It would be great if he could witness us winning a championship win in the A grade. It would be an historic moment.”