Ballygunner joint-captain and goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe was frank after yesterday’s Munster club win, admitting it was “hard to sum up”.
“Now that we’ve finally got there, and given all the heartbreak we had a few years ago, it makes it a bit sweeter. It’s very hard to put it into words. You work so hard and you get your heart broken. You come back again and you get so close and you get your heart broken again.
“To finally get up the steps, it’s the proudest moment, I’ve had on a hurling pitch.”
O’Keeffe pointed to his teammates’ resilience: “This Munster championship is unbelievably hard to win. If you can get out of your county, you’re doing unbelievably well, and then you’re going up against the county champions in games.
“You can’t study any of the other teams, everyone is just coming with their best and hoping it’s enough. We could have been beaten the last day by Ballyea, but we got the rub of the green. We kept pushing and we got the result. It is a testament to the lads.
“When you lose two Munster finals, you kind of say what else is there to lose and you just go at it full whack and never give up until the final whistle.
“Finally we’re after getting to where we want to go. I think we maybe pointed to last year that we got a goal to bring it to within a point in 59 minutes and then Na Piarsaigh had that extra gear, that bit of experience. They kind of steamrolled us in injury time to win by eight points.
“I remember very well because I was standing over there bawling my eyes out. Just to actually get here and to get up the steps, it’s indescribable.”
O’Keeffe said their two outings against Midleton and Ballyea “really stood to” Ballygunner. “When you come up to the Munster final and you’re playing a team that have beaten you twice in the last three years, and then suddenly they get a goal in the first two minutes, the natural thing would be to drop the head but I think it’s because we were in the position in the last two games (that we refused to wilt).
“We were down after conceding goals in the first half of both games. Four down in both at half-time. I think that does build in a bit of resilience, that it’s a long game. If you just keep the head, you’ll get your chances and it’s about taking them when they pop up, I suppose.”
He had two decisive interventions, a penalty goal and vital save from Shane Dowling.
“I seem to have a talent for being able to block things out completely. I suppose maybe it’s a mechanism of taking pressure off that you know you just give it your best, if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If you’ve done the training, it should be. That’s easy to say now that it (the penalty) went in, if it went wide, I might be telling you a different story.
“I’d a very good sight of the (Dowling) shot in fairness and I think Shane was hitting it off balance. I think under normal circumstances if he’d time to set himself, there probably would have been no hope of me saving it but the backs were fighting tooth and nail to get close to people. If they could put a slight bit of pressure on them to mishit a shot, I think that was the attitude we came with today.”
That attitude was clear, that they had to win yesterday.
“Definitely. It’s easy to say now that if we hadn’t have won, there would have been regrets, but there would have been. We spoke about it all year. There’s absolutely no shame in losing to teams like Thurles Sars or Na Piarsaigh or Ballyea if we’d got beaten the last day, those are fantastic teams. But at the same time, when you get into the competition five times and you get to the final, this is our third time in the final, if you don’t get over the line, there will be regrets. We felt we had enough in the tank to win a Munster championship but unfortunately on the day over the years we’ve come up against fantastic teams that have just been better.”