By Michael Ellard
IT’LL be a dream come through for Ballinhassig when the boys in blue run out onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park tomorrow for the final of the All-Ireland club intermediate hurling championship against Dicksboro of Kilkenny.
"Never in our wildest dreams did we think that our little village club would play in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park," said Ballinhassig President Donal Coleman.
"Ballinhassig players have represented Cork there with distinction and I am sure more will in the future, but we never envisaged that we would play there as a club."
Since captaining Ballinhassig to the Cork county junior hurling championship title in 1965, when they defeated Brian Dillons in the final at Carrigaline, Coleman has been an inspirational influence on his club.
Following that breakthrough 40 years ago, Ballinhassig won the junior county again in 1973 and captured intermediate honours in 1975 and 1977. Success dried up for a time, but another county junior success was achieved in 2002 when Ballinhassig defeated Fr O’Neill’s by two points in the final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
"At the time I predicted that it would take us at least three years to win the intermediate championship again," said Coleman.
"We had some outstanding young players like Daniel O’Callaghan, Fintan O’Leary, Brendan Coleman, David Brennan and Michael Ahern coming up through the underage ranks."
His prophesy proved to be spot on, but Ballinhassig lost their first game in the 2005 intermediate championship, when they were pipped by Blarney after a replay. They later capitalised on the back-door system when they stormed back to win the county title itself.
"Fr O’Neill’s took the same route in the junior championship. They lost to Sarsfields in the first round of the East Cork championship but bounced back to win the county, and here are the two of us playing in Croke Park tomorrow."
The Ballinhassig president admitted his club lived dangerously at times in the Munster championship, particularly in the final against Ballyduff Upper.
"However, when you consider that we were short full-back Declan Healy, wing-forward Fintan O’Leary, both injured, and centre-forward Darren Dineen, who was in Australia for the entire Munster campaign, it was marvellous to win it."
Ballinhassig experienced few problems in accounting for St. Mary’s of London and Glenarriffe of Antrim in the All-Ireland series, and with centre-back Michael Ahern fully recovered from an ankle injury will have a full squad.
According to Coleman, Ballinhassig will be looking for a dry sod for the final.
"We are essentially a young team with seven or eight U-21 players in the side. They are all able to hurl and I would say that as a bunch they were the best underage players we have ever produced. They have speed to burn and a good, dry sod would suit them down to the ground."
Ballinhassig are in the dark as regards to the capabilities of their final opponents
"All we know is that Dicksboro were senior up to a year or two ago and they must be good to have defeated the Galway champions in their semi-final game.
"After all, you never get a bad Kilkenny team playing in an All-Ireland final."