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Cambridge Parnells seeking to cause Hertfordshire Senior Championship semi-final upset against Éire Óg Oxford

Cambridge Parnells move into uncharted territory on Sunday when they look to extend a breakthrough season.

Following some lean years, East Anglia’s only Gaelic football team are set to contest a Championship semi-final for the first time since 2015.

Standing in their way are pre-tournament favourites Éire Óg Oxford, with the two sides locking horns in Waltham Cross.

Cambridge Parnells are through to the semi-finals of the Hertfordshire Senior Championships
Cambridge Parnells are through to the semi-finals of the Hertfordshire Senior Championships

The most important competition for clubs in the area, Cambridge came through the group stages following wins over St Colmcille’s St Albans, St Dympna’s Luton and a narrow defeat to reigning champions St Joseph’s Waltham Cross.

Éire Óg, meanwhile, have been imperious, winning the league at the start of the year and topping their Championship group. The free-scoring side constitute the backbone of the Hertfordshire representative side and have won the Championship in three of the last four years.

It means Cambridge enter the last four clash with something of a mountain to climb but the underdogs are not planning to lay down.

Player-manager John Hickey said: “Oxford have dominated Hertfordshire football over the last few years, so it’s a huge challenge for us but we’re looking forward to the game. We have massive respect for them and how they go about things.”

“We have a squad of very committed players and we will give the game on Sunday our best shot and see where that gets us.”

While Éire Óg have a 60-year history and a large club infrastructure, Cambridge is somewhat different. Formed in 2006, the club enjoyed some early successes, winning the Championship in 2007 and 2009, but have struggled competitively in recent years.

Such is the transient nature of a city like Cambridge, player numbers have fluctuated throughout recent campaigns but in 2022 a strong core of new players has helped to transform the team.

Chairman Cormac Ryan said: “Momentum has been so important. Increased numbers have allowed for better training, better results, increased commitment, and the cycle continues.”

“Previously it had been about ensuring the club survived as a social hub for Irish emigrants and anyone who wanted to play the sport.

“Now things are thriving, we’ve gone from having six people down at training some nights to near 30. Everyone in the club is buzzing.”

The Parnells can take some confidence from the fact that they’re the only side to have beaten their Oxford opponents this season, doing so in the semi-finals of the Father O’Hanlon Cup.

“That would have been a season highlight previously but we’re in a position now where we can genuinely aim for the biggest prize,” said captain Barry Grogan.

“We’re training twice, three times a week for this with people travelling from all over East Anglia.”

“People might think that Gaelic football is not taken as seriously outside of Ireland but that isn’t the case.

“Everyone in this club is so committed and focused, the team spirit is incredible and we’re going to give it everything on Sunday.”

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