Before the Munster club JAHC final, Ballygiblin chairman, Liam O’Doherty spoke of the massive interest in the game against neighbours from across the border with Tipperary in Skeheenarinky.
The excitement had spilled far beyond the boundaries of the two clubs and the massive crowd that gathered in Mallow inadvertently delayed a challenge game between UCC and the Tipperary U20s by over an hour.
After the demand that accompanied that famous victory, the last thing O’Doherty expected was to be on the ticket trail again, but now, with that much-publicised problem resolved, the real business of the weekend has taken centre stage again.
“We’re back to focusing on the game and we tried to keep all the hassle about the venue away from the players. I just told them to leave that to us, that’s our job, ye train away and keep up your side of it. It’s going to be on Sunday, a pitch is a pitch, ye needn’t be worried about where it’s on, only that it will be on.
“The excitement is building up now and it’s great up and around the town. There were great celebrations for a couple of days after the Munster final and that was history in itself. There are people travelling to Portlaoise at the weekend that wouldn’t normally travel that distance to a match and that’s what it’s all about. I was talking to a couple of lads from Skeheen and they’re travelling too.”
Generally speaking, such an occasion would inspire odysseys from all corners of the globe but with the times that we’re living through, practicality has tended to trump romance.
“It’s a difficult call for people. If the restrictions would lift, people would be able to move more freely but there’s still a lot of fear out there with Covid and if it’s not a necessary journey, I suppose people won’t take it.”
The beauty of the All-Ireland competitions below senior level is how the heart of the GAA gets its chance to shine on Broadway. As the last representatives from Cork left in the hurling competitions, Ballygiblin are the talk of the county, the pride of the county while the drama surrounding the tickets has propelled them into the national consciousness. O’Doherty, however, has not lost his sense of perspective.
“I tell people that we’re living the dream. The schools are just buzzing and there’s a huge change over the past five or six years with social media in how we can promote ourselves. When there was a problem with the streaming of the match the last day, there was someone able to keep people updated through Facebook.
“So, it made no difference where you were, you were still able to keep in touch with what was happening. There are so many people following Ballygiblin on Twitter now, I mean it has me off my head! I’d often be wondering would we recognise them at all! We went to the schools on the Monday morning after the Munster final and there’s just huge interest in juvenile GAA in the parish. Even youngsters that might have been iffy, now there’s a hurley in their hands. We have a good school coaching programme, and all of this will really help to increase the participation of young people be it hurling, football, ladies’ football, or camogie.”
That coaching programme got another boost with the return form Australia of Mark Keane, and his involvement is the cherry on the cake for Ballygiblin.
“I suppose everybody knows Mark at this stage! Look, it probably wasn’t an easy decision for him to make. It was probably helped by his participation with the Cork senior hurlers. He’s given us a massive boost altogether now even off the field as he’s after joining in the school coaching. I just know from young lads alongside me at home, they just couldn’t wait to get to school yesterday because Mark was going to be below training them. When you have someone that has been through the mill like he has, with the way he has been trained you can see the difference. He can jump for a ball and the rest of us wouldn’t get anywhere near it.
“He has two years of professionalism down under behind him and you can see it in him. It’s a huge boost to the club, it’s really just making our day and the ducks are just all falling in a row at this stage, and we just need to get over Sunday now.”