St Patrick’s (Kilkenny) v Charleville (Cork), Croke Park, Sat (5.30)
TRADITIONAL hurling rivalries will be renewed when St Patrick’s from Ballyragget in Kilkenny take on Cork champions Charleville in the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland junior club final this Saturday.
It’s already been a hectic year for St Pat’s, who also celebrated winning the Kilkenny U21 ‘A’ Championship this year.
Not surprisingly, that successful team have left a big impression on the team to play this weekend and they have an average age of just 22.
They have a big gun on the line too, with their manager being Maurice Aylward who was the man at the helm when the mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks made their return to the top flight at senior level in recent years.
“We hadn’t won a county championship in Kilkenny for 32 years,” explains captain Ciaran Delaney.
“We lost a final in ’78, won junior in ‘79 and won intermediate the year after. We lost the county final in 2003 and that’s the closest we came until this year – we haven’t been knocking on the door, we haven’t been contesting. We lost the north final last year which would be a county semi-final, but this year we made a huge commitment at the start of the year to push on.
“We have new management too, we have Maurice Aylward who has huge experience and was over Ballyhale Shamrocks when they won their senior club championship and he has been around the block and is a good man to have on our side,” he adds.
The team have got a sense of the importance of the occasion through the noticeable increase in crowds watching them training, while two former players have come home from Australia to be part of the big day for the parish.
“I’m 30 and coming towards the end rather than start of my career but it’s great. I never thought I’d get to play in Croke Park. A few of us at underage were on Kilkenny minor panels but a huge amount of us would never have thought we’d get here and thankfully we have our chance now,” says wing back Delaney.
“The whole area is excited, the colour and the crowds even up at training, we must have had nearly 100 people watching and it’s great. We are a small enough parish and the amount of bunting and flags and jerseys and tops being sold and everything has been great. It’s all been a great buzz – especially in the climate that we are in for people to have something to look forward to at the weekend,” he says.
Little has been left to chance – and that includes doing research on their Cork opponents.
“We have a small bit of research done and they have their research done too because we spotted a few of their boys up watching us,” smiles Delaney.
“We know they have a good full forward line and a couple of very good young hurlers and are a good solid team. To win the Cork championship they had to be a good team and then to win Munster they played good teams to win that, so we’ll be prepared,” he added.
Meelin were the Cork champs who won the title last year and Charleville captain Danny Flynn admits that once they had ended a near 50 year famine with a county crown, they had aspirations of bigger things.
“We said to ourselves that the Cork county champions normally have a good run in the competition. We celebrated the county championship because we were waiting a long time for it but then sat down and said it was five games to get to Croke Park and we’d take it one step at a time and see could we get here.
“After the Munster final win over Cappamore we knew we only had one more game to get over and everyone focused on it and the prospect of Croke Park loomed bigger,” he revealed.
Like their Kilkenny opponents, playing experience of GAA HQ is limited and for some of the Charleville team being in Croker will really be a ground breaking experience.
“Watching games in Croke Park is the extent of my experience. We have one or two who played years ago for the Cork minors but we’ve very little experience and it’s great – we’ve some lads who have never been to Croke Park for anything. You’d be hoping they won’t be too overawed when they get there.
“It’s a great occasion and a lot of us might never play in Croke Park again. It’s great to play with your club here and that’s the benefit of the AIB championship.
“We won our first county championship since the 60s this year and had a few rough years. We won a few divisional titles alright but this year has been a rollercoaster and if we finish up with the trophy the town will be on a high. It would be incredible to win a trophy and stand up there in the Hogan Stand with the trophy and with your friends. You watch fellas on TV do it and it would be an experience you’d never forget. You can’t look forward too much because you’d forget you’ve to play a match – but yeah it’d be good,” says Danny Flynn.