St James, West Cork outsiders last season, now take their place at county level

Small Carbery club upset the odds to land a divisional crown in 2022
St James, West Cork outsiders last season, now take their place at county level

Celebration time for St James after lifting the West Cork Junior A title.

THE 2023 Bon Secours Cork Premier Junior Football Championship sees West Cork champions St James one of 12 clubs seeking to become inaugural county champions.

Excitement was palpable amongst club representatives gathered at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the county football and hurling championship draws shortly before Christmas.

As ever, there were plenty of raised eyebrows and the odd gasp during the top-tiered Premier Senior football and hurling grade pairings.

Yet, the draw for a newly created Premier Junior football competition attracted plenty of attention, and rightly so.

Twelve clubs, situated in all four corners of the county, have left their respective divisions to contest what is expected to be the most unpredictable of county football competitions.

St Nick’s, Ballydesmond, Urhan, and Cullen will go toe-to-toe in Group A of this year’s Cork PJFC.

The Barr’s, Cobh, Buttevant, and St Michaels make up Group B while Millstreet, Kilmurry, Kinsale, and St James are set to face one another in Group C.

St James claimed last year’s Carbery JAFC following a superb run of results.

The Ardfield-Rathbarry club were ranked as outsiders for a junior football championship most pundits anticipated one of Tadgh Mac Cárthaigh (including Cork senior Brian O’Driscoll), Argideen Rangers, or Ballinascarthy might lift the Mick McCarthy Perpetual Memorial Cup.

Instead, player-manager Alan O’Shea guided a young St James’ panel all the way to the final, including some notable scalps.

BOUNCE BACK

A defeat to St Mary’s in St James’ JAFC championship opener preceded victories over Castlehaven (2-15 to 3-10), St Colum’s (1-21 to 0-9), and Ballinascarthy (2-12 to 0-10) before revenge against St Mary’s in the semi-finals (2-11 to 1-11).

Averaging close to 20 points a game, St James deservedly lined up against a similarly youthful Argideen Rangers in the 2022 West Cork decider.

James’ defence was on top throughout an unusually low-scoring affair but played their part in a historic 0-11 to 0-5 victory.

St James captain Conor Hayes with his father Joe, brother Criostoir, mother Eleanor and sister Lily after their recent success in the South West Junior A football championship final.
St James captain Conor Hayes with his father Joe, brother Criostoir, mother Eleanor and sister Lily after their recent success in the South West Junior A football championship final.

The after-match scenes will live long in the Ardfield-Rathbarry players and mentors memories, as the entire parish spilled on to the St Oliver Plunkett’s GAA ground’s pitch to join in the celebrations.

“This is like a dream,” St James manager Alan O’Shea said shortly after the final whistle.

“Every year we are written off. We were ranked the seventeenth best team in West Cork football at the start of the championship. Well, we are out of the junior ranks now. It is unreal.

“We cannot wait to go up Premier Junior. What a boost for the club. This is a mentally tough and driven group. They always give everything and have heart, real heart. You can’t say much more about an unbelievable group of players.”

So, how will St James fare in their first foray into Cork Premier a junior football championship competition?

The two-time West Cork football champions possess a necessary and varied scoring threat. This is best exemplified by an even spread of scores amongst a forward line containing Aaron Hayes, Frank Hayes, James O’Driscoll (midfield), Ian Evans, Joseph O’Sullivan, and player-manager Alan O’Shea throughout 2022.

St James will need to maintain a similarly impressive scoring average against Millstreet, Kilmurry, and Kinsale’s more experienced defences during this year’s group stages.

Kevin O’Leary and James O’Driscoll’s consistency at midfield combined with a back six comprising of Micheál McCarthy (B), James O’Sullivan, Tadhg Feen, Peter Whelton, Conor Hayes, and Micheál McCarthy (D) plus goalkeeper Niall Evans, will be equally important to the West Cork club’s chances of making an impact.

The Ardfield-Rathbarry outfit begin their 2023 Cork GAA Premier JFC campaign against Kinsale in Timoleague on July 29th before facing Millstreet on August 20th. St James’ final group clash is against last year’s junior football county champions, Kilmurry, in Ahiohill, on September 8.

Kilmurry will be no strangers to Alan O’Shea’s side as the two clubs clashed in the last eight of the 2022 JAFC county. A 2-10 to 2-7 Kilmurry win preceded the Muskerry club’s 1-10 to 1-6 semi-final defeat of Urhan, and 1-12 to 0-8 county final victory over Cobh.

Preparations for St James’ debut PJFC season are already well underway and ahead of the Carbery club’s upcoming Division 7 county football league campaign.

An Argideen Rangers side defeated in last year’s West Cork divisional title are one of the clubs St James will face in league action over the coming months. Aghinagh, Ballinhassig, Ballyclough, Castlemagner, Cullen, and St Michael’s are St James’ other league opponents.

So there is much for the ‘men from the mountain’ to look forward to in 2023 and beyond.

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