West Clare may not be considered a hurling heartland but dig a little and there is a more fertile breeding ground of talented stick men than it first seems.
When St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield beat Rathnure from Wexford to win the 1999 All-Ireland club title, the Clare and Munster champions featured Joe Considine from Cooraclare at midfield.
His younger club colleagues, Pearse Lillis and Damien Burke, have been vital contributors to Ballyea’s march to Croke Park.
Ballyea captain, Stan Lineen, is from Kilmihil, a football-orientated parish that nestles next to Cooraclare and half an hour’s drive from Ballyea.
Lineen, like Considine, is a midfielder and was appointed Ballyea captain in 2015.
The 24-year-old, who works with Saint Gobain in Kilrush, first picked up a hurley on behalf of Ballyea almost 12 years ago.
Donal Kelly, Tony’s father, was at a funeral in Kilmihil and took the opportunity to enquire into the potential of aspiring hurlers in the west Clare village.
“I’ll never forget, I was in fifth class in primary school. At lunch time we were queueing up to go in and Carmel Coughlan (teacher) said to me: ‘Stan, I want to have a word with you.’ I remember thinking, what’s wrong with her now? I did nothing wrong today.
"I had my homework done, she couldn’t be going giving out to me! But she said it to me then about going over to Ballyea. We went over that Sunday and our first session was in the back field and we ploughed on from there,” Lineen explained.
“As soon as we came over, we just clicked in with the players straight away. The boys who have won All-Irelands with Clare have never forgotten their club. We won that U12 and won the U14 Clare Féile.
"It was huge for a young lad going down to Kilkenny for Féile. It was easy to click when you’re going away like that,” he added.
In those days Lineen was joined by fellow Kilmihil men Martin O’Leary, Mark Coughlan, and Allyn Dalton. In their battles with Sixmilebridge, Clonlara, and Doora-Barefield, Lineen doesn’t recall any suggestion of a lack of respect for the men from the west.
“We played a fairly central role in the Ballyea team. Allyn Dalton was full-forward the year we won the Féile so it wasn’t as if we were making up the numbers.
"Myself and Marty (O’Leary) played (U14) Forrestal for Clare. We were well able to mix it up. It isn’t as if those clubs went easy on us in the championship games.”
He attributes making it as a hurler to the quality of coaching in Ballyea and the fact that some of his team-mates are exceptional players.
“That goes down to the lads we are playing with and the coaching we have got over the years. When we go to training we might be marking Tony (Kelly) or Gudgy (O’Connell).
"These lads are serious hurlers and then the coaching we’ve got has been top class all the way along. That couldn’t but improve your hurling,” he reasoned.
Ballyea’s leader from the west had a quiet night in when he celebrated his 24th birthday earlier this month.
He is hoping that there will be a celebration to top all that have gone before in Ballyea after the biggest day in the club’s 83-year history.
“For every single GAA player, getting to Croke Park is the dream. Every time you hear about Doora-Barefield you hear about Joe Considine. It would be mighty to bring another All-Ireland back around West Clare.
“Thinking about it gives you a dose of the shivers.”