As last Sunday’s epic Munster club SHC quarter-final turned into extra-time, the TG4 cameras zoomed in on Ballygunner boss Fergal Hartley addressing his players, huddled together in the middle of Walsh Park, before they faced Thurles Sarsfields for another 20 minutes.
“Not much talk about tactics there,” said TG4 co-commentator Donal O’Grady. “At this point it’s about the players having the heart for it.” A few days later, with that dramatic two-point win in the bag, Hartley agrees.
“Absolutely, it’s less about tactics at that stage than getting them to focus and to be positive, and that’s always the fall-back position.
“At that stage it’s about grit and determination no matter what position or situation a player finds himself in, because in a game like that, which absolutely takes on a life of its own, players can find themselves in unusual situations.
“At one stage, for instance, Padraic Maher came downfield for Thurles and was almost playing as a centre forward, effectively, and David O’Sullivan was almost playing as a half-back when he followed him.
“As well as that, Shane Walsh was wing-back for us but ended up tracking Aidan McCormack back the field, ending up as a wing-forward.
"That wasn’t where we wanted Shane to be, but a game like last Sunday’s, it so crazy and hectic that you can’t actually make a change at times - you literally can’t get the message out there to get someone back up or down the field where you want them to be.
"We brought on Billy O’Keeffe and he ended up following his man back to corner-back, which wasn’t where we wanted him playing - but again, we didn’t have the time to make that change.
“The game takes players where it takes them and tactics, shape, all of that can end up going out the window. If the ball comes to you win it - that’s about as complicated as it gets. You’re working on a lot of varying processes all through the year but in a game like that it’s ‘do whatever you can whenever you can’.”
It’s also draining physically, but Hartley pays tribute to the team trainers: “In fairness to the lads doing the physical training, Davy Franks and Shay Fitzpatrick, they have them in great condition.
“Thurles were very well conditioned as well, obviously, but once the lads got into their stride then the whole thing about playing for the previous six weeks wasn’t as much of a factor.”
Ballygunner’s sprinkling of inter-county experience helps, of course, but the manager points out that every team has that quality at this point in the competition.
“It’s a help, of course, but the problem is that every team at this level of the competition can call on a similar number of inter-county players, so it’s not really an advantage.
“Thurles Sars had men in every line with inter-county experience and Sixmilebridge will be the same - they have massive quality in their team, lads who can come to the fore when the pressure comes on.
“And it’s not just the intercounty lads, we have players with vast experience at club level, just like Sixmilebridge. They’ve won three of the last five championships in Clare, which is some going.
"That championship is arguably the hardest one in the country to win, going by the number of teams which have won it.
“We played Cratloe in 2014 in the Munster Club and they beat us, and I remember thinking at that time, ‘this is as good a club team as I’ve seen in a long time’, but they haven’t won that championship since.
“Any team winning three of five championships in Clare - that’s a greater achievement, arguably, than in most other counties.
"The likes of ourselves, winning four in a row - it’s arguably a greater achievement in Clare because there seem to be seven or eight teams there which can win the championship. It makes the champions battle-hardened, too, when they come out of it.”
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