“People tell me it’s great to have two teams from the one parish in a county senior final but I wonder if it is. I’d be looking at the broader picture and I would believe that doesn’t reflect well on the county.”
He couldn’t call it a rivalry. This is the neighbours’ fourth county SHC final and Patrickswell are looking for their fourth win. But for his father relocating to the Ballybrown part of the parish, Ryan may have well have won as many as the nine medals Richie Bennis claimed with the ‘Well.
“My father was from Clonoulty and he was a founder member of the Patrickswell club. Ballybrown would be a lot older (by 53 years) and he would have moved to the other side of the parish to the Ballybrown area and got involved.
“I was born outside the pale of Patrickswell. The damage was done by then! He had Patrickswell formed. They went on to reach huge heights and form a great tradition but it’s a great area for hurling. They always had the upper hand on Ballybrown. In my own playing career going up through junior, intermediate, and senior ranks, they always seemed to come out on top. We never met them at times when things were going well for us so we’re well overdue a win.”
The construction of a large housing area in Patrickswell in the 1950s meant their catchment area grew as Ballybrown’s remained stagnant. It came as no surprise that the ‘Well became more attractive.
“At the time, we had a few defectors, as we called them. A couple of ambitious people who did cross the line in more ways than one to join Patrickswell. It was like in the North and Paisley going to Mass on a Sunday and I mean that! It was never forgotten. They carried a kind of a stigma that never went away.
“Patrickswell’s dominance didn’t happen by accident. It was well maintained, their dominance over Ballybrown in particular. They had a terrible wish to keep Ballybrown in their place and they did.”
In its pomp, tension between the clubs was intoxicating, Ryan recalls. Patrickswell reaching an All-Ireland club final in 1991, the year after Ballybrown had done so, said much about the relationship.
“It isn’t what it was,” rues Ryan. “The rivalry was unbelievable. It was like a war and that was that. They had a very tight-knit operation in Patrickswell, only four or five families. It’s not a big parish by any means but Patrickswell would have had the bigger portion of the parish and Ballybrown is down on the banks of the Shannon.
“They developed a unique type of hurling. They had no small amount of skill and a terrible will to win. Coming from a small base, it was very impressive what success they had. You had to admire them. We had some tremendous tussles down through the years but unfortunately we found it very hard to get the upper hand against them.”
Ballybrown, though, have been threatening to make a breakthrough these last couple of years. “The love of hurling and the underage structure are two reasons,” Ryan explains, as behind the resurgence. “They have won the U14s again with a very good little team coming up and again you have the likes of Ollie O’Connor. Ollie and Joe O’Connor are bringing the tradition on again.
“This senior team is a very skilful team but they haven’t been able to put performances together and that’s the kernel of the situation. If they bring their ‘A’ game to the Gaelic Grounds, there’ll be nothing between them but if they don’t, then the ‘Well will devour them. Playing Ballybrown is worth three points to them alone because they won’t have to be motivated.
“Last year the final ended in a shambles and Patrickswell should have got a replay. They haven’t been as impressive at all. The ‘Well have the advantage in the physical stakes. I don’t think they have performed to the level they can yet — they didn’t do it against Kilmallock. It’s been an unusual kind of championship.”
A Ballybrown final win tomorrow would continue that narrative. Ryan wouldn’t mind one bit.