De La Salle's redemption day
Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00
YOU don't even have to mention the dreaded P-word or the 2009 AIB All-Ireland club hurling final to De La Salle's full-back captain Ian Flynn; he knows what you're thinking before you voice it.
Being mauled by the tiger that was Portumna in that infamous Paddy's Day horror show has left scars, he freely admits.
Two years later it has given De La Salle extra motivation, but Flynn also knows that his Waterford city side mustn't get ahead of themselves before today's All-Ireland semi-final against Clarinbridge.
"Portumna and Ballyhale were the kings, they won the last five titles between them and with both of them out, everyone who's left now will be fancying their chances," he says. "The four of us probably don't know a whole pile about each other really.
"People seem to be making us favourites against Clarinbridge but we know that's very dangerous," he warns. "They're the Galway champions and anyone who knows anything about hurling has to respect that and respect them."
After putting themselves on the map with their first Munster title in 2008 -- three years after contesting their first county final -- De La Salle needed extra-time to dispatch Cushendall at the All-Ireland semi-final before Portumna took a hammer to their All-Ireland dreams.
That 19-point defeat somewhat dulled their achievement, he admits, even their first provincial title.
"A lot of people said we were lucky even to win Munster that year, so getting back to this stage was a huge motivation," he says.
Yet De La Salle have had plenty of other incentives. In the subsequent summer's county championship they took their arch-rivals Ballygunner to extra-time in a quarter-final replay but lost.
And when they met their cross-city nemeses again in the first round of last summer's local championships, De La Salle lost by 15 points. That proved a seminal moment in this run.
"We all met up for a meeting the following Tuesday night and a lot of home truths were told," Flynn reveals. "You just knew that night that we were going to go either of two ways and I think everyone knew it was going to be the right way."
So it transpired as they romped through the rest of the local championship, including an eight-point final defeat of Ballygunner. But they didn't exactly canter through Munster.
Their first game pitted them against the same semi-final opposition as 2008: Cork champions Sarsfields. De La Salle twice needed to come back from five points down and needed to score twice in injury-time just to stay in it. When the extra-time smoke had cleared they had scored 22 points, with only one to spare.
"Yeah, thank God for Kevin (Moran), he got a fantastic free to get us into extra-time," Flynn recalls.
They showed similar resilience, during the Arctic spell, to dispense with Lar Corbett's Thurles Sarsfields in a low-scoring Munster final.
"It was snowing in Waterford when we left, it took us an eternity to get there and it was a real dogfight alright but, again, we got through it," Flynn says.
So two years after their first All-Ireland semi-final De La Salle are back; a little older, a lot wiser and still driven by their indomitable All Star John Mullane and former county men like Stephen Brenner and Bryan Phelan.
They're still backboned by lads like Paidi Nevin and Mick Doherty, who won a Division 2 Feile final in 1999 in a team later fleshed out by the likes of Moran, who won county minor and U-21 titles in the last decade.
New manager Michael Ryan, of Waterford women's football fame, has brought a fresh impetus this season and he has experienced deputies in Ray Murphy and Luke Lawlor, who played alongside many of the De La Salle players.
This year's management have given Dean Twomey a new defensive role and also handed teenagers like Jake Dillon and Eoin Madigan their chance.
In their two-week break after the Munster final they all went to Newcastle for Mullane's stag weekend but were back, promptly, at training the following Tuesday.
No Waterford team has ever won the All-Ireland club title, so history beckons. But for De Le Salle it feels like redemption calls even louder.
Clarinbridge v De La Salle,
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