Suddenly the Carrickshock supporters took to singing.
David Franks looked around, delighted but feeling a sort of vertigo too. The previous 13 months… Dickens’ famous line about ‘the best of times, the worst of times’ hardly covered it.
Kilkenny’s Carrickshock meet Galway’s Ahascragh/Fohenagh in today’s Intermediate All-Ireland club hurling final. The going has been tough and uphill. “That moment, the sing-song, made it all worthwhile,” he says. “Just to hear everyone in great form, after all that had happened, all the hurt.”
Last November, David Franks looked around that hotel dining room and fixed the scene. Carrickshock were Intermediate champions, back up Senior, a new vista before them. The downpour ended up unfurling a rainbow.
Franks was thinking about the early months of 2016, of the punishing running he had done around Hugginstown, the village that is Carrickshock central, so as to get himself back right as a player. His stint as manager might not have worked out but he was determined to contribute on the field, under the downpour.
To understand, you need context. Carrickshock reached 2013’s Senior final, losing late on to Clara in a contest most neutral observers felt they should have won. 2010 had seen similar disappointment, against O’Loughlin Gaels. Would Carrickshock ever do it?
For 2015, David Franks stepped back, aged 35, and agreed to become manager. “We just got into a tailspin,” he recalls. “We’d only a single point after three rounds of the league, and got sucked into a struggle, and eventually lost the relegation final to St Martin’s.
“We had injury after injury… no bit of luck that way. I don’t think the players or the management did anything so wrong, but I do take responsibility for the fact it happened.”
Franks is candid: “Trauma is not too big a word. I know it’s only hurling, end of day, but the game is everything in South Kilkenny. It’s wrapped up in everything here.”
Tommy Shefflin, from neighbouring Ballyhale Shamrocks, took over the reins. “It wasn’t an easy situation for Tommy to come into,” Franks notes. “But he has done a wonderful job.”
Even so, night had yet to find dawn. Last April, Carrickshock lost their opening league tie by eight points. Franks is equally candid: “That day against Lisdowney was one of my lowest moments in hurling. Were we headed for another relegation battle and down to Junior?” They nerved themselves. Three weeks later, Carrickshock beat Thomastown by eight points in the second round. The road remained uphill but would ultimately deliver a February day in Croke Park.
Heading into this occasion, David Franks allows himself perspective: “Relegation seemed the end of the world, but in hindsight there might have been pluses. Some of our younger players got a chance to develop outside the scrutiny that comes with Senior. Maybe, in a way, the youngsters benefited from the drop.
“Then you have Richie Power busting himself, with his knee in bits, to give everything he has. We’ve all been some bit inspired by Richie.”
Franks continues: “I’m also conscious kids in the parish got to see two cups. Hasn’t happened too often, a Carickshock captain getting a cup. Our own lads, Adam and Cian, are nine and seven, and they’ve been thrilled by the experience.”
How did a native of Ballyskenagh and an Offaly hurler become a Carrickshock clubman? Franks was a sub on the Offaly team that lost to Kilkenny in 2000’s Senior final. He continued in Faithful colours, a highly accomplished defender, retiring in late 2012.
“I was a student at IT Carlow,” Franks relates. “I got involved in organising the hurling there, and Jamie Power arrived into us. Jamie would have been a bit of a name at the time, because he had just won an U21 All Ireland with Kilkenny.”
Camaraderie deepened when both men ended up working for Michael Lyng Motors. Franks elaborates: “Jennifer, my wife, is from Carlow, but we decided on a move to Kilkenny. I’d been going to a lot of Carrickshock’s matches, through knowing Jamie. So I was naturally drawn to the area, and I started hurling with them in 2006.
“We’re well settled here now, two young lads tearing away underage. It’s a great place to live, similar to Ballyskenagh, good solid country people, helpful out.”
This afternoon, David Franks lines out corner-back in front of goalkeeper Jamie Power, student days long gone but hurling days still around. Franks smiles at the thought: “If we can just get over the line, after such ups and down, it will be pure elation. It’s going to be extremely difficult, but we’re there, which isn’t a bad start.”
Listen out. If Carrickshock triumph, their supporters will resume voice with the fervour of people who have seen river deep and mountain high.
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