Ardmore are surfing the waves of success

They know plenty about life’s ebbs and flows in the seaside village of Ardmore.

Ardmore are surfing the waves of success

The last census pegged the permanent population at just 434 souls but the number swells every summer when the tourist season kicks in and the local GAA club has experienced a similar swing between boom and bust in recent times.

For six years there they frequented the county’s senior hurling grade. Then they dropped to intermediate, which they won in 2014 only to sink back down a year later when a handful of players including Clinton Hennessy headed for foreign shores and others got injured.

Declan Prendergast was among that latter cohort, a broken elbow costing him much of the season and Ardmore the experience and class of a man who won four Munster Championship medals with Waterford.

But they had still to reach the depths. That happened 16 months ago when, after an intermediate campaign littered with tight games lost by a point or drawn, they fell through the trapdoor to junior.

“Everything was going wrong for us,” says Prendergast.

But, every silver lining and all that… Tomorrow, they’ll take to the turf in Croke Park with the honour of an unexpected All-Ireland title at stake. For Prendergast, a win there would outshine even the most illuminating of victories he achieved with the county.

“Well, I suppose you’d always mention the 2004 (Munster) final (win over Cork). That would be one of the highest points of my career,” he reflects. “In Thurles, down to 14 men: to win that day was great. They (Cork) were on a high at the time. They were after beating us in the 2003 Munster final as well so it was great to get one over them in 2004. But if we win an All-Ireland it will be well ahead of them.”

There’s no great secret to Ardmore’s recent resurrection. Relegation made everyone look in the mirror. Tom Cronin, a Fianna Fáil councillor, stepped up to the plate as manager. Wayne Power, who coached the Waterford minors to an All-Ireland five years ago, and another handful of locals joined them.

The players, crucially, bought into it. Training began earlier than usual. A gym programme was drawn up and adhered to. All this was buttressed by a bunch of youngsters coming of age at just the right time to join the club’s adult ranks. It hasn’t all been plain sailing back to this point. Ardmore let slip a couple of games in Waterford’s Western Championship and they needed a late, late goal to squeeze through in the regional decider.

Still, the mix of youth and experience has paid dividends: the likes of Seamus and Declan Prendergast at one end of the spectrum and young James Slavin, underage hurler of the year in Waterford last year and just out of minor, bookending the other.

Plenty of them have dealt with big occasions before, the Prendergasts aside.

Seamus Keating, a one-time Ireland U18 rugby player, is on Derek McGrath’s Waterford panel. The Hennessy trio of Wayne, Niall and Ritchie have played in Croke Park with the county footballers. Michael Cronin won a minor All-Ireland hurling medal there in 2013.

Prendergast laughs about locking the doors this week and letting the euphoria and the madness wash over him but there’s no swimming against this tide. A farmer and a contractor in the area, he will have been out and about all week and immersed inevitably in the giddiness of it.

“It’s nice to be at home for those kind of days,” he says.

The buses are booked, the flags flapping wildly in the salty sea breeze. Tomorrow, Ardmore’s population will plummet like never before.

AIB All-Ireland Club JHC final: Deuglán Naofa, Ardmore (Waterford) v St Mogue’s, Fethard (Wexford)

Tomorrow: Croke Park, 2pm

Referee: S. Hynes, Galway

TV: TG4.ie

Bet: Ardmore 4/9

St Mogue’s 2/1

Draw 10/1

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