"COUNTY Finals," Ballyduff boss PJ O'Grady said after the match. "The only way to enjoy them is to win them."
Never was a truer word spoken. It was O'Grady's first county championship success in the Kingdom, having previously been involved with both Ballyduff and St Brendans. It was a victory that probably took a little longer to secure than Ballyduff's dominance might have suggested it would, but no matter now. Ballyduff are kings once more and the pressure is off the man called upon to continue the fine work done by this predecessor – Jerry Wallis – in bringing back-toback titles to the club.
"I thought we played well overall," the Patrickswell native said. "We probably should have had the match sown up a lot earlier, but we missed a lot of goal chances. We normally wouldn't miss in fairness, but we happened to miss them today for some particuarly reason. In fairness to Ally [O'Connor] he was playing with a pain injection, he got a pain killer this morning. I didn't think he'd see out the match, but look we're delighted."
Heading into any county final as a Ballyduff team means only one thing. When that team is going for three titles in-a-row that expectation is only heightened. It's something that O'Grady was well aware of in the build-up. It was, nevertheless, something he wanted to keep a lid on at training amongst his players.
"To be honest we didn't talk about the three in-arow. We said we'll win one match at a time. They can talk about the three in-arow tonight. They had to win it first, because it could have become an obstacle to us. Fellas could get too uptight with too much at stake, but we didn't even talk about the three in-arow," he commented.
The reasons why they can now talk about it is clear – they were the better team. The more balanced team certainly. Lixnaw's defence did a good job of curbing the Ballyduff strikeforce for large stretches of the game, but with the fat in the fire Ballyduff found another gear.
"With fifteen minutes of the second half gone we'd only two points scored, but then when we got the few points in-a-row it lifted the tempo again. It wasn't for the want of chances, we probably took a few of the wrong options at times, but at the end of the day a win is a win no matter how you win it and we're very happy to have won," O'Grady said.
Ballyduff have yet to hit the heights they did in 2011. That much is clear. Some of that is down to what Aidan Boyle rightly identified as cuter play by opposing sides, but a lot of it was down to injuries and a developing starting fifteen. There's a feeling that if Ballyduff are to match last year's achievement in reaching the Munster intermediate final then they'll have to hurl better. A proposition O'Grady agrees with.
"Probably we played better today than any other day, with the exception maybe of the first half against Causeway. I thought we played very well against Causeway that day, but apart from that we didn't. In fairness training wasn't upped until after the semi-final to be honest. Then we upped the training and we finished stronger today than we had been," he continued.
"We'll have to improve from that, but we can. We went down to Bandon and played them last Monday
night week below in Cork and they play hurling at a very fast pace and they caught us out for about quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, but we got up to it. They can play very well against outside opposition. There's a lot of history between Lixnaw and themselves. Lixnaw are dogged."
Local man and team selector Tom O'Sullivan was a contented man following the full-time whistle. Having been involved in each of the past three seasons he knows to take the rough with the smooth and while it looked for a time that they were struggling to pull away from Ballyduff he never felt the green and white was ever in much difficulty.
"I suppose there was a lot of talk during the week that the game would go this way, the game would go that way, that Lixnaw would put us under severe pressure, but they really didn't. We were comfortable all through," he said.
"That was the one time you'd worry that Lixnaw might sneak a goal and the game would really be in the melting pot, but as I say about these guys: they don't do panic. They were there last year and they were hanging in in games and they seemed to be able to pull it off. We could have been out the gate at halftime, but our forwards, their touch was off a bit today for some reason or another." With yet another title secured for Ballyduff the focus now turns to mak ing ammends for last year's disappointment in the Munster final. If they're to compete as effectively as last year then improvements are needed, but what can be done to improve? "We really liked Munster last year," O'Sullivan confirmed. "And we performed well there and I think the boys feel they let themselves down a small bit so hopefully we can put on the push for Munster. We have four weeks. We're back training on Thursday night so we'll push on from there. It's hard to know what more we can do with the boys. The boys are in top shape. Their touch just left them down today so hopefully the next day it might click." SOMEWHAT different from its football counterpart, the Senior Hurling Final in Kerry retains a quite unique atmosphere and appeal in terms of the rivalry it generates and the camaraderie, which exists between the respective players and supporters. It's borne out of the geographic location of the clubs in North Kerry and the fact that socially there is a close association between the various villages.
On the pitch there's no quarter asked or given and while bragging rights would be part of the victory bonus for the winning supporters, it's almost essentially good humoured banter. However, it would create a false impression, if one was to paint a picture more of a social rather than a sporting occasion, because hurling championships are prized possessions. One's status in the hurling community is measured by the numbers, which appear on the roll-ofhonour. Ballyduff, more than any other club, are held in the highest esteem not alone for the number of Championships which they have won, but for the quality of the hurling they have displayed since winning their first title back in 1891. However, it wasn't until the nineteen fifties that they emerged as a real dominant force winning in every decade since then and achieving hat-tricks of title wins in the seventies and the nineties.
Sunday provided them with the opportunity of completing their fourth title treble. Given that they entered the fray unbeaten in this year's competition and were the defending champions, they carried the tag of favourites, something which they have always coped with quite comfortably. For Lixnaw, it was a somewhat different scenario. With seven titles they feature alongside Causeway behind Crotta, Kilmoyley and of course Ballyduff.
Having had breaks of twenty-one and twenty-nine years, between two of their championship successes, they have won three titles since 1999 so they could justifiably be ranked quite high in the modern era. However, they fell short to Ballyduff in the last two championship campaigns so in terms of tradition and history they faced a searching examination of character and belief. The team selections as printed on the Match Day Programme were largely along expected lines, even if there was intense speculation concerning the involvement of Lixnaw's Mike Conway who was listed as number nineteen.
Having played in the first round and picked up an injury he didn't feature subsequently, so quite obviously there was a doubt about his match fitness. If held in reserve, however, the contest could well have been out of reach by the time he was ready to make a contribution.
The listing of Paul Galvin at number thirty-three understandably aroused, a lot of speculation also, but given that he has had no involvement whatsoever in this years' campaign, not many if any expected the football All Star to feature. As events transpired he wasn't part of the matchday squad.
Mike Conway was introduced early in the second half for the injured Enda Galvin when the final outcome still hung delicately in the balance. However, he never received an adequate level of supply, but his goal, finished superbly, when the issue was beyond doubt late in the game left many wondering what might have transpired if he had been included in the starting lineup.
A return of just one point from play summed up Lixnaw's inadequacies up front and while they still retained realistic hopes of outright success midway through the second half, Ballyduff had more aces individually along with a more potent scoring spread.
A late scoring surge from the defending champions, put daylight between the teams and while Conway's goal put a better complexion on the scoreboard it came far too late to influence the final outcome. In terms of quality it was a pretty poor encounter, with Lixnaw in particular at odds with the situation in terms of