Earlier this year when the Drom-Broadford senior footballers were looking for a challenge game they decided to test themselves against quality opposition.
The Limerick club have often voyaged in the Munster senior club championship so they organised a game against Dr Crokes and pointed the cars south to Killarney.
John Brudair of Drom-Broadford — and also Limerick senior football manager — wasn’t sure where Crokes ground was located in the Kerry town, so he decided to get down early in case he had to go searching.
“I was a bit surprised when I walked into this clubhouse in Killarney and saw an under-twelve hurling team training away, full blast. I was saying to myself, ‘am I in the right place here?’” He was.
“Dr Crokes take hurling seriously — seriously enough to pick up the Kerry intermediate hurling title this year, breaking your view of the traditional home of Kerry hurling being in the far north of the county.
Their reward is an outing in the Munster club junior hurling championship against another strong football side: Drom-Broadford, who collected the Limerick junior hurling title.
“Football is the focus, of course, though we’re working hard,” says Tim Hourigan, the Tipperary native managing Crokes’ hurlers.
“In fairness, we have some good youngsters coming through, we had four on the Kerry minor squad last year, so it’s good.
“There are four or five within the club who are focused on hurling; it was down for a few years but a season like this year’s means it’s on the way up again, hopefully.
“There was a big shake-up in the underage section in the last couple of years. A lot of the interest was driven by people from outside the county settling in Killarney, myself included (Hourigan is a Tipperary native) but it’s important to have local people involved. That’s happening and it’s obviously more helpful.” Only three of the club’s senior football squad will be involved with the junior hurlers.
The plus side is Hourigan’s charges aren’t reliant on players they don’t see while the senior football championship is running; the downside is the lack of action.
“The way the Kerry county board runs things, everything stops while the county footballers are going, so we were able to get on with training away.
“That said, the football has kicked in again since the All-Ireland final and the Kerry footballers came back to their clubs here.
“We played challenge games in north Cork, south Limerick. We kept it going that way while waiting for the championship.” The dynamic was different for Drom-Broadford. As Brudair points out, hurling has traditionally been strong in the area, while they can call on more of the club senior footballers for the hurling side.
“There’s a big crossover in terms of personnel,” he says. “I’d say of the two teams you might have twelve or thirteen players who’re on the football and the hurling teams. Regulars on both teams.
“That’s the key obstacle for any club, really, which is trying to maintain teams in both hurling and football — how do you make sure they’re fresh?
“You can dog them too much trying to get a load done, and nobody wants a tired player. At times you just have to accept that it’s going to be a week on and a week off, alternating sports.
“It helps that we’re all friendly, that we’re involved with both teams.
“I’m coaching the hurlers but I’m also involved with the footballers — you know what each team is doing, what their schedule is, there’s good communication.
“Historically Drom-Broadford would have been a hurling club — only in the last twenty years it’s gotten a reputation as a football club.
“If you went back to the fifties and sixties they’d have had a good name as a hurling side, they’d have been in a senior county final in hurling, for instance.”
After his early-season trip to Killarney, Brudair admits he wasn’t thinking in terms of seeing the Kerrymen on the hurling field in 2015. Drom-Broadford took a while to build momentum earlier this year.
“You’d certainly have gotten good odds on a hurling game in Munster against Crokes, or anyone, for that matter — we lost our first two league games and had to win the third to have any chance of progressing.
“If you’d told us then we’d end up playing Crokes we’d have thought it was football, certainly.” For his part, Hourigan isn’t expecting a football-sized crowd supporting Crokes’ black and amber.
“I don’t think it’ll be near the crowd that would be around if the footballers were playing, we’ll be relying on friends and family and girlfriends to provide the numbers, I’d say.
“It’s a fair drive up, but we did have a good crowd at the county final, we’d be hopeful our crowd will row in behind us.
“We have some homework done on Drom, we know how good they are — I suppose the fact that they have so many players who are operating at senior level in football could stand to them in terms of fitness and experience.”
Brudair’s looking forward to the occasion: “One of the great things the GAA has done is this kind of championship, at this level. I’m sure it will be massive for the club in general and for the hurling people in the club in particular. We’re expecting a great day, to be honest.”