Yours truly was asking Ballygunner manager Fergal Hartley about the possible benefits of playing their Munster club SHC quarter-final against Thurles Sarsfields in Walsh Park, being at home and so on, and...
“Generally I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the venue,” said Hartley.
“The lines are in the same place on the pitch, the goalposts are where they always are, all of that.
“The other stuff shouldn’t have a major impact, even the fact that there’s a home crowd ‘against’ you; these guys are at a level where that shouldn’t be an issue.
“A lot of these players are at intercounty standard or very close to it and, if you’re put off by things like the environment you’re in, the roar from the crowd, then I don’t believe you should be playing at that level in the first place.”
So far so good.
Then Hartley branched off a little.
“I’m always a little bit bemused by people talking about the advantage of playing at home, whether that’s soccer teams almost setting up differently when they play away from home, setting up in a more defensive way.
“That almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy then, because if that team gets away with a draw or whatever away from home, the process gets perpetuated.
“I wonder if that seeps into other sports then, as well, almost a mental thing where ‘we’re away from home, so it’s a disadvantage’.
“I don’t think that it’s a major factor. Now, you don’t have to travel if you’re at home, obviously, and that helps, though Thurles to Waterford isn’t a long distance. It’s not as if you’re driving to Antrim the morning of a game.
“If you’re at home, you can puck around in your own home pitch, which is a help, but is it going to win a game for you? I don’t think so, but it amazes me when you watch even the Premier League, how that’s held up as something that has a big influence on the result, whether you’re playing home or away, ”
Hartley’s men collected their fourth county senior hurling title in a row last Sunday afternoon. It’s over half a century since a club was that dominant in Waterford.
“It’s great, because it was back in 1961 that that great Mount Sion team finished their run of titles (the city club won nine in a row), so it was a fantastic feeling, but you have to move on straightaway, realistically. We can’t dwell on it and I’d think the lads haven’t had time to process it properly yet. It’s a huge achievement for them to do it.
“The reason it hasn’t been done in all that time since is precisely because it’s so difficult. There have been three three-in-a-rows since then, but four titles in a row is a serious, serious proposition.
“This group of players is a serious bunch, but we have to move on; there’s a big game ahead of us this Sunday.”
They’re not the only club to have four titles in a row won this year, of course.
“Thurles Sarsfields have done it, themselves, and we know what they’ll have in mind. They’ll be gung-ho to win the Munster club and they’ve had those extra few days to recuperate and recover, and to make their plans for the game against us.
“In that sense, we’re on the back foot. We had to put all our effort and planning into trying to win our quarter-final, semi-final and final over the last few weeks, rather than giving any thought to who we might be up against in the provincial championships.
“They’ve had a bit of time to prepare for us and to focus on what they need to do.”
Hartley feels Sarsfields may still be hurting after their dramatic exit from last year’s provincial series; they were cruising against Ballyea only for the Clare champions to force extra time with a late surge and then go on to victory.
“We’re under no illusions about the challenge. I know they were beaten last year by Ballyea, and Ballyea are a serious team, but it’s still a game that on the day they probably feel they should have won, a championship they should have won.
“Thurles Sars would have designs on going the whole way, and rightly so, they’re a big club with big ambitions and huge talent. You couldn’t fault them for the scale of their ambition, but we’ll prepare as best we can, give it our best go and see where that takes us.”
Have Ballygunner, themselves, got unfinished business at Munster club level?
“It didn’t feel like that with 15 minutes to go against Lismore, to be honest. We were three points down and they were going well. At that stage, Thurles Sars or anyone else in the Munster club looked a long way off for us.
“We were absolutely fully focused on the games we had in Waterford. The Mount Sion game ended up an easy one, they’re old rivals of ours and you never know what can happen in games with them.
“The Lismore game was in very challenging conditions and was a very tough examination, and De La Salle are our other great city rivals, they have serious talent and on an upward curve as a club, so we weren’t thinking about anything other than the Waterford championship.
“We’re refocusing and planning now but it took until this week. We’ll give it our best shot, we won’t be making excuses about the number of games or how many weeks in a row we’ve been out, we’ll give it our best.”