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Venue : Turner’s Cross.
It is the biggest competition of its kind in Ireland and indeed one of the biggest in Europe. Each year, over 700 teams across the country start a voyage to capture the most coveted trophy in amateur football. And then there were two.
It is unusual that, as we enter World Cup week, the destination of the FAI Umbro Junior Cup is still undecided. However, this year’s competition has been embroiled with controversy. Appeals, counter appeals and then some has seen it the competition stretched and indeed rocked to the core. It has been a testing time for clubs, players, supporters and officials alike.
When Tipperary Town’s finest St Michaels and Limerick City kingpins Fairview Rangers walk out on the pitch in Turners Cross tomorrow, they will both hope to bring this testing time to a successful end and give the most prestigious of trophies a new home. It is time for the football to do the talking.
Given the year that’s in it, it’s a little bit ironic that the two sides last met in a decider in 2002, another World Cup year, and what was another testing time for Irish football. But that’s water under the bridge. Turners Cross was also the venue back then, a game which ended in a draw, with the title going to to the Limerick side in the replay.
St Michaels suffered heartache also in the 2000 decider. With three final appearances in ten years now, it really is a case of 3rd time lucky for them. They currently hold one title, back in 1974. That gap of 36-years is a huge wait for a club with such rich traditions. An emphatic win over fierce rivals Clonmel Town in the semi final just two weeks ago has them in the right frame of mind. In the battle of Cahir that day, they cruised to a 3-0 win.
Manager John Cremins has links to that team of yesteryear. His father was a key member on the pitch that day, when they beat Tolka Rovers 2-1. In such a sports mad country, Cremins, speaking to the media in the run up to the game, spoke about the interest in the team right now.
“This is a huge sporting town and when you get to the latter stages of the competition there is talk about the team that is normally reserved for the Tipperary senior hurling team,” said Cremins, St. Michael’s coach.
“The club plays a huge part in the community and the community takes a huge interest in the club and what people have to remember is we have only won the junior cup once in over 60 years.
“It has now taken on almost mythical value to everyone and when this time of the year comes around and St Michael’s are involved in the junior cup, interest goes through the roof.”
It will be more of the same a little further west in Fairview. Tomorrow, they also are chasing their own piece of history, on two fronts. They currently are tied at the roll of honor list with Dublin side Cherry Orchard. Both clubs are on seven titles. Title number eight tomorrow would see them sit proudly on top of Junior football in Ireland. Manager Jason Purcell has been a key member in 5 of those success on the pitch. Now under a different role, he is playing down the record.
“Of course another win on Sunday would give us the record for the most cup wins but everybody at the club, especially myself and the players, are only interested in winning another junior cup.” the Limerick man said.
Fairview have been waiting in the long grass for almost two months now. Their semi final was played in the first weekend in April. Like their opponents, they also had an emphatic win over a local rivals when they beat Regional United 5-1, in a controversial game that saw them come from behind and score five times in the final third of the game. They showed character that day in what was a tempestuous affair and saw it through, but will their long layoff effect them tomorrow?
In the meantime, they also captured the FAI Youth title two weeks ago, a huge achievement for the club. A unique double now at Junior level, would indeed make it even sweeter. Their phenomenal affinity to this competition over the past 15 years or so, has been a story of legend on Shannonside.
“I don’t know what it is, but the club and the players just come alive in this competition,” said the Fairview boss.
The huge crowd that will travel to Turner’s Cross will hope that both sides will come alive and they will be treated to a classic encounter. After the turmoil of the last three months, we all could do with it, the Junior game needs it. Given all that’s happened this year, I don’t think we will be disappointed.
Latest betting on paddypower.com (To lift the cup).
Fairview – 4/7
St Michaels – 5/4
Backpage Star Bet – 2-1 Fairview @ 8/1.