The big days out are coming thick and fast for Con and having edged past Young Munster last weekend to set up an All-Ireland League final date with Clontarf at the Aviva Stadium in eight days, Hickey’s players must now turn their focus on today’s trip to Galwegians for an All-Ireland Cup final.
“I think we have to treat them separately. Since Saturday, our sole focus has been on this coming Saturday and this cup game,” Hickey told the Irish Examiner.
“The one eight days later after that, it’s out there, the players may be aware of it, but certainly for the management our sole focus is for this Saturday.”
Con’s hat-trick of Bateman Cup victories between 2013 and ‘15 suggests an affinity with the competition and Hickey also values its heritage, the cup having been presented to the IRFU by Dr Godfrey Bateman in 1922 memory of his sons Reginald and Arthur who were killed during the First World War.
From a west Cork family, Dr Bateman had the cup inscribed: “in ever-fresh and loving memory of his darling sons: Major Reginald John Godfrey Bateman, Canadian Infantry, killed in action September 3, 1918. Captain Arthur Cyril Bateman, who, on March 28, 1918, gave his life for his wounded Camerons’”
That inscription still resonates with players who lift the Bateman Cup today, said Hickey.
“A synopsis of the history of the Bateman family is inscribed on the trophy, about how the two boys lost their lives in the war and why the trophy was presented. It wasn’t until the players won it for the first time that they actually read what was engraved on it.
“So yeah, they’re aware of the four in a row, they’re aware of what the trophy stands for and they realise this is an another All-Ireland competition, against a team whom they’ve beaten and lost to this season. We know we’re going to have another tough game on Saturday.”
Hickey knows from recent experience exactly how tough Galwegians will be. The Cork side consigned them to relegation from Division 1A on points difference with their 26-16 win at Temple Hill on the last day of the regular season a fortnight ago but that game was far from straightforward and Con were beaten in Galway on the opening day of the campaign, a 12-11 loss at Crowley Park.
“We were definitely second best to Galwegians that day and even for long periods of the game two weeks ago. I would have a lot of respect for the type of game Galwegians play and the way they play it. With Connacht rugby on such a roll this year they’re very worthy ambassadors and I must say I was a little bit shocked that they were the team that was relegated. We weren’t fully aware of the ramifications of it until the final whistle.
“This is a one-off cup game, they’re at home and I do think league form counts for nothing, which has been the case when Con won the last three Bateman Cups. We certainly weren’t challenging in the AIL at the time.”
Nor has Hickey’s preparations been helped by a bruising 22-16 win last weekend in the league semi-final with Young Munster, when it took two injury-time tries to settle a game that has left him with walking wounded. Double try-scoring centre Niall Kenneally and back-row duo James Murphy and Graeme Lawler were classed by the head coach as his “biggest injury worries” ahead of Thursday night’s final training session and Hickey could not agree the win last weekend gave his club any bit of momentum or springboard heading to Galway.
“I don’t think so. If anything it will have taken quite a toll. It was a very tough game and it would have been a hell of a momentum stopper if it hadn’t gone our way, we really would have ground to a crashing halt. But I don’t believe the corollary is the case. I don’t believe it was a momentum builder.
“We’re delighted we got the home semi-final, it means a lot to the club and we were delighted to win it, obviously, but in the context of this Saturday it was a really tough 80 minutes we had to play and the bodies were very tired at training on Tuesday night. So going into it a degree of freshness will be required.”