Buoyant 'Bridge bid to make it 30 not out at Croker
Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30
When Lisdowney players were hurdling over their fallen bodies after yet another final heartbreak, no-one could have envisaged the remarkable future for Kilkenny club Bennettsbridge.
That was October 2013, a year after they had come agonisingly close but eventually succumbed to Thomastown, also in the junior decider, and scars were expected as this talented young squad had suffered more than most.
The spine of the team were also part of title losses at U-14, U-16 and minor, all at 'B' level, before a joint decision was made to make the leap of faith and mix it with the aristocrats of Kilkenny hurling in the 'A', where success came on their maiden voyage.
And the JHC breakthrough in 2014, despite trailing Galmoy by six points late in the county semi-final, has helped create an unbeaten streak stretching back to April of that year with 27 wins and two draws in 29 games.
They have taken all before them and 12 months after tasting All-Ireland junior glory in Croke Park, they are back at HQ tomorrow as Galway's Abbeyknockmoy stand in their way of the IHC national crown. For 'Bridge secretary Dick O'Neill, it's a sense of déjà vu.
Despite being steeped in hurling history, winning 11 senior titles between 1952 to 1971 and boasting five Kilkenny senior captains including Noel Skehan, O'Neill never thought he would see those heights again. But he believes this group are special.
And this is coming from a man who helped forge the future of future Kilkenny stars like DJ Carey and Charlie Carter when teaching in Gowran.
"I would compare this group to that crop," O'Neill said. "There are similarities, and this has been an amazing run.
"This team has stuck together, grown together, become friends together and they'll die together. They have an incredible loyalty to each together, it's great to see and they should relish hurling senior and hold no fears."
Manager Christy Walsh, a former Kerry hurler, explains that 14 of the winning minor team will tog out tomorrow, something which "wouldn't happen in a town club".
Rubbing shoulders with big guns like Ballyhale Shamrocks and Clara hasn't really entered his mind just yet. First they're aiming to make it 30 not out.