Ballyea hoping to reach the final frontier with a maiden crown

Ballyea parish priest, Fr Harry Brady, was handed the “unenviable task” this week of selecting the best-decorated house ahead of the club’s county hurling final appearance.
Ballyea hoping to reach the final frontier with a maiden crown

Unenviable, you see, in that his search was by no means limited to Ballyea or the surrounding townlands. Far from it.

Given its location right on the border which separates hurling and football country in Clare, Ballyea, since its establishment in 1934, has drawn players from the football strongholds of Cooraclare and Kilmihil. Throw in Kildysart and it quickly becomes apparent the spread of houses Fr Brady was being asked to cover.

From the panel which will attempt to annex the club’s maiden senior hurling title tomorrow, Pearse Lillis and Damien Burke both hail from Cooraclare. Of Kilmihil blood are Stan Lineen, Martin O’Leary, Patjoe Connolly and David Egan.

“We are just west of Ennis, the final frontier before you enter football country,” explains hurling manager Robbie Hogan.

“All we are doing really is giving young lads an opportunity to play hurling. Tony Kelly and Gearoid O’Connell are involved with the U12s here and sure any young lad, irrespective if he is from a football background, would only love the opportunity to train under these lads.

“I remember when I was underage, there was a chap, Jason Ryan, and he used to come from Kilrush. There has been a trend where lads come over if they feel they have something to offer. We certainly aren’t going to turn them away.

“Pierce [Lillis] and these lads have been coming over since they were eight and nine. They are Ballyea once they turn down off the Kilrush road.”

And they’ve been coming down the Kilrush road in increasing numbers in recent years, thanks largely to the work of Kilmihil national school principal Carmel Coughlan and her work in fostering a love of hurling in what is a predominantly football area.

“I was down at training and one of the Kilmihil lads on the panel was saying how this Ms Coughlan is always encouraging the kids to play hurling. It was her encouragement that first saw them take a hurl in their hand and then come play with us,” club chairman Pat Moylan recalls.

“I have seen many nights where they hop into their cars after hurling training in Ballyea and make for football training in either Cooraclare or Kilmihil. “They make a huge effort to play both codes.”

Said effort has brought Ballyea within an hour of a first Canon Hamilton Cup success. The final clash with Clonlara is just their second appearance in the decider, the first arriving back in 2003 where Clarecastle marked their card by 3-14 to 1-11.

Robbie Hogan was in the stand that afternoon, having hung up his boots two years earlier. He’d been the youngest member of Ballyea’s 1991 county junior winning team and the oldest member of the 2001 intermediate winning side. The latter was to prove his last outing with the club’s flagship side.

“I was midfield the day we became a senior club, but I knew when I was putting my boots in the bag afterward that while it was a great occasion, it was going to be my last game. My second daughter had been born the week previous and I’m a self-employed tiler so between work and family commitments, I knew that would probably be the end of my playing days.

“At the start of the 2003 season, Michael O’Neill, who was one of the mentors, tried to persuade me, but I had my mind made up. Obviously, when you are in the stand on the day of our first senior final, I had regrets. I remember two lads from Clarecastle were sitting beside me and they were asking me, ‘why aren’t you out there’. You’d love to be out there but when your time comes, it comes.”

Hogan, along with Raymond O’Connor and Christy Cusack, took over the senior and U21 teams in 2012, the latter achieving a first county title at that grade. The central spine of that team consisted of Tony Kelly, Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Niall Deasy and Gearoid O’Connell, the very players who will backbone tomorrow’s side.

“Outside of them then you have players like Gary Brennan who brings massive experience from his inter-county service with the Clare footballers.

“Hopefully we can bring it all together and do ourselves justice.”

“Hopefully we can bring it all together and do ourselves justice.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Fr Brady will announce the winner of the best-decorated house competition tomorrow morning.

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