The supremacy once enjoyed by those north of the Liffey has run south. The stranglehold of St Vincent’s, O’Tooles and Craobh Chiaráin has been seized by the new kids on the block, the emerging forces of the southside.
For Ballyboden St Enda’s hurling secretary Eamonn Treacy, the changed landscape of hurling in the capital has been seismic.
“Nowadays it is a common occurrence to see a young boy walking down the street in Ballyboden with a hurl in his hand. Twenty years ago that just wouldn’t have been the case.”
A lesser light on the club scene throughout the 80s and 90s, Ballyboden’s roll of honour has flourished since the turn of the millennium; five county senior titles, six U21s, four minor and five U16 Dublin championships. Several individuals have played their role in the club’s ascendency, not least Liam Hogan, Ray McKenna, Tipperary’s Paudie O’Neill and John Ryan, Offaly’s Paddy Corrigan and Kilkenny’s John Kirwan, but one in particular, stands out from the crowd.
Former Armagh footballer Enda McNulty was appointed to the position of coaching director in September 2001. McNulty had just completed his post grad in sports science at UUJ when Orchard teammate Andrew McCann tipped him of about the opening on Dublin’s southside.
Ballyboden were hungry to move up the pecking order and McNulty was tasked with leading the charge.
“They were plenty of good hurling coaches, but they needed to be improved on the quality of coaching standards,” he admitted. “We brought in members of the Clare All-Ireland winning hurling team to coach the younger kids and for the coaches to watch, observe and get coached as the session was going along. People were brought in from the outside on regular occasions to challenge the thinking of those in the club.”
McNulty hammered home the importance of starting from the bottom-up, placing strong emphasis on those in the 5 to 10 years of age bracket, ‘the making or breaking phase’ he labelled it.
His message was simple: “We need to forget about the idea of winning at underage, we need to develop these guys so when they reach 19 or so years of age they are able to win at inter-county level, that Ballyboden are winning at club level, but that the club is also contributing to the inter-county set-up.”
Though parting ways with the club in 2005 — the position filled by current coaching director Brian O’Regan — McNulty plucks two examples to highlight the deliverance of his philosophy; the Ballyboden nursery on a Saturday morning he says is a sight to behold, 200 kids being coached the basic skills of the game, and Wednesday afternoons in the various national schools. “Every lunch break the kids roll out the goalposts in military fashion and either play hurling or football. The boys in senior class would referee the games between the third and fourth class pupils, almost like a little GAA academy.”
The National Féile na nGael title secured by the Ballyboden U14 hurlers last month was the latest in a long line of underage success and Eamonn Treacy says it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough at senior level.
Their maiden title was annexed in 2006 and thereafter the “floodgates opened” with the club stringing five consecutive senior county championship wins.
“We’d been there or thereabouts for a number of years before that. We had been dominating at underage but we just couldn’t make that breakthrough at senior level.
“We’d been beaten in one or two county finals and several semi-finals by teams that we probably should have beaten. It nearly became a psychological thing.”
Three weeks after Armagh’s All-Ireland victory in 2002, McNulty was invited by then senior manager John Ryan to deliver a talk to the panel. He titled the presentation ‘The secrets to success’.
Upstairs in the clubhouse, McNulty recalls the silence as he spoke. The information was absorbed and though it took longer than expected, the key to success was eventually unlocked.
During his presentation, McNulty noted the physique of Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney and Gary Maguire. He was instantly impressed. The trio, along with Paul Ryan, Shane Durkin, Niall McMorrow, Simon Lambert and Conor McCormack, will don the sky blue against Cork, the largest club representation on Anthony Daly’s panel.
A new landscape has been drawn in the capital and this Ballyboden success story could well reach greater heights come 5pm tomorrow afternoon.