Friday 20 October 2017

Flanagan expects more twists in the Ballyea adventure

Ballyea's Paul Flanagan. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ballyea's Paul Flanagan. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's been a roller coaster ride for Ballyea after laying their hands on a maiden Clare SHC title last month, and Paul Flanagan has no intention of slowing down as they set their sights on Munster honours against Cork kingpins Glen Rovers this weekend.

The Banner's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat brought "bitter disappointment" but Flanagan was "refreshed" by the return to club action. However, even in his wildest dreams he couldn't envisage what followed.

While they haven't won by huge margins, Ballyea keep getting the job done and, despite securing All-Ireland honours at senior and U-21 level, a first county title was every bit as sweet for the powerful centre-back.

The success of rural clubs despite numerical disadvantages is one of the wonders of the GAA, and Ballyea have stuck together through difficult times.

"People were asking 'is it as good as what you've achieved with Clare?', and it's every bit as good. It means an awful lot and when you're with your own - it really means everything," Flanagan says.

"We'd a good aul side there growing up and lads kept together. We enjoyed what we were doing and it just built from there - there was a bit of a loyalty to each other.

FUN

"We enjoyed going hurling but we enjoyed it even more going hurling with each other, and we knocked good fun out of it. Lads bought into that, and you feel you'd be letting someone down if you weren't there.

"But make no mistake, we'd be the same as any other club. We had to sit down last year and wonder why lads aren't training or what's the issue or what do we do with communication? We're the same as any other small club."

With the Canon Hamilton Cup still doing the rounds after their replay victory over Clonlara, little was expected from Tony Kelly and co when the provincial race began seven days later against Tipp giants Thurles Sarsfields.

Post-final hangovers are regularly the order of the day for first-time winners but Flanagan (24) was keen to buck that trend.

"Even the talk around the county and a lot of places was that, after winning our first county final, lads would struggle to turn up the following Sunday - and we said during the week that we wanted to represent Clare the best we could," he says.

"You don't get these opportunities too much and it's something we've never had before. It's great to be in another final, it's the third one in five weeks so we intend to make the most out of it."

He's getting a "fair aul kick" out of his pupils talking about Ballyea's exploits in Limerick city's Ardscoil Rís, where he teaches Irish and PE.

And, while he was on strike last week Flanagan will have another full-time job on his hands on Sunday - with a possible duel against Rebel ace Patrick Horgan ahead.

County duties are currently on hold but the 2013 All-Ireland U-21-winning captain believes Clare "must make the most of their time" as he renews acquaintances with Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor, his joint-managers at minor and U-21.

"A lot of us have had some very good days and days that you'll remember forever with the two lads, and we'd have a lot of respect for them, but I suppose the challenge is still there," he says.

"We're well accustomed to the boys and we enjoy working with them but the challenge is there for us as a group of players.

"That's going to be one of the major things. You're trying to make the most of your time as much as anything, you see Tipp and Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, those are the days you play the game for.

"Without a doubt you want to make up for it. We've had a couple of hard days the last few years but that can happen teams and we do want to drive at it again."

But for now it's matters closer at hand and Flanagan, who learned his craft at the famed St Flannan's hurling nursery, cites a magnificent treble of U-14 'A' championship, Féile & League titles in 2007 as the genesis for their remarkable run.

Although a year overage, Flanagan remembers defeat to eventual champions Castleknock - inspired by future Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny - in the National Féile and it was clear something special was brewing.

Ballyea's first All-Star, Tony Griffin, "pointed the road for a lot of us" and they reached the promised land after "nearly having to coax Robbie Hogan's lovely wife Catherine to make sure he stayed with it as manager after four years in charge".

Hogan's "trojan work" has helped exceed expectations, but they may scale more lofty heights yet.

Irish Independent

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