Gerry Cullinan remembers pitching up in Ballygunner from his native west Waterford in the 1970s when “the 12 houses” were still standing.
It was from this cluster of houses that the Ballygunner team that won three Waterford SHC titles on the trot between 1966 and 1968 apparently drew the majority of its players.
Whether that, or the fact that the club was only formed 12 years earlier, is the more impressive stat is an interesting debate.
Those houses have long since been demolished and the club founded by schoolteacher Jimmy McGinn transformed with the expansion of Waterford City in the direction of their parish, resulting in a population explosion.
Cullinan is chairman of the thriving club now and believes that whatever happens in Sunday’s AIB Munster club senior final, the future is in safe hands.
“We’re in a better position now than we ever were,” said Cullinan. “We won the county U15 and U16 championships recently having previously won the minor championship. We also won the U11 and U12 city leagues. I don’t say that by way of boasting, moreso acknowledging that we’re in a golden era for the club.
“Last year was very a good year for us as well but winning the minor championship this year was special because we wouldn’t have been considered big favourites or anything.”
The hidden hand of volunteerism is what’s propelling Ballygunner along or, as Cullinan puts it, success breeding success. “If you go back to the 2001 Ballygunner senior team that won the Munster club championship, an awful lot of those guys are involved in some capacity with the club now,” said Cullinan.
“Fergal Hartley is obviously managing the seniors, Pádraig Connolly and Rory O’Sullivan are involved, Billy O’Sullivan and Stephen Frampton are involved with the U21s and Darragh O’Sullivan, who played around that time, is with the minors.
“You’d have a good few others who are involved with underage teams too, we’re lucky to have them.”
There are other obvious links between that 2001 team and the current side. Mick Mahony, father of current stars Pauric and Philip, was involved back then as was Billy O’Sullivan, an uncle of the duo, who captained the team.
The club’s success within Waterford has been remarkable with qualification for the county senior final in all but three of the last 23 seasons.
Munster titles, bar that win in 2001, have remained agonisingly outside of Ballygunner’s grasp though. No other club in the province has lost more finals than their tally of seven.
Cullinan argues the toss about that statistic and points to the quality of teams they’ve consistently encountered in the province.
“Even this year we got an awful tough draw which was shown up in the narrow wins we had over Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge,” he said. “And now we’re coming up against a Na Piarsaigh team that has the best record of them all in Munster; 10 games and never beaten.
“As it happens, their very first match in Munster was against us, in 2011. We conceded two sloppy goals in the second half which put us out.”
Na Piarsaigh repeated the dose in 2015, winning by seven points, though Ballygunner were without both Mahony brothers due to injury and suspension that day.
“Without a doubt we’re a better team than two years ago,” said Cullinan. “We didn’t have Pauric and Philip that day but we also didn’t have Wayne Hutchinson who was up in Dublin.
“Players like Ian Kenny and Eddie Hayden, it was their first year on the team and they’re more established now too. I just think it’s a more mature group that’s in with a great chance.”
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