The feat which the hurlers of Bennettsbridge are chasing tomorrow – winning back-to-back All-Ireland junior and intermediate club titles – remains exclusive to the Ardfert footballers.
It must be a decent omen then for the Kilkenny club that their manager was born and reared in North Kerry.
Having trounced Fullen Gaels to capture the All-Ireland junior crown this time last year, Bennettsbridge subsequently annexed the Kilkenny and Leinster intermediate titles at the first time of asking. Their 0-15 to 0-8 defeat of Wolfe Tones na Sionna last month moved them within one hour of back-to-back glory, a feat no hurling club has managed since the inception of the All-Ireland junior and intermediate championships in 2004.
Bennettsbridge manager Christy Walsh, though, has seen this done before, present on both spring afternoons in 2006 and ’07 when his native Ardfert achieved the impossible.
“I finished playing with Ardfert around 2000 when they were at a very low ebb. I used to drive down to Ardfert from Kilkenny because we had fierce trouble getting a team. I heard a very good team was coming up, but I was too old to be waiting for them,” quips Walsh.
Walsh holds the view that any team who wins a Kerry or Kilkenny championship in the lower grades has a “great shot” at an All-Ireland. History supports his argument; Kilkenny clubs having won the junior All-Ireland on four occasions in the past 11 years, six intermediates amassed during the same period. Even last year, only one of the four titles across both codes went outside of these two counties.
“The number of teams competing in the county championships has a lot got to do with it. They keep them nice and compact in Kerry and Kilkenny,” he says of the 12 teams who compete in the Kilkenny senior and intermediate championships respectively.
“There are 32 senior teams in the Tipperary hurling championship and no Tipperary team ever makes any headway in any of the club hurling championships. It is very seldom you would see a good, strong Tipperary intermediate team or a strong junior club.
Galway too would be quite high (24 senior hurling clubs). When it comes to senior, it all balances out and every county has a chance, but at the lower grades, the championships in Kerry and Kilkenny are just so competitive. Their teams are the favourites starting out every year and one of them invariably end up winning it every year. This would be some achievement if we can pull it off.”
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