Wednesday 19 June 2019

'Touch wood every fella we have is fit right now'

Charleville manager John Moloney and selector Ben O'Connor. Photo: Eric Barry
Charleville manager John Moloney and selector Ben O'Connor. Photo: Eric Barry

Diarmuid Sheehan

Ben O'Connor may be one of the iconic Cork hurlers of his, or any generation, but this weekend the All Star (2) will have to play from the side-lines as his Charleville side take on Graigue-Ballycallan for a place in the All Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Final.

O'Connor may have made his name playing with Newtownshandrum, but it is with neighbours Charleville that he is forging a pretty impressive coaching career.

A win on Sunday will afford O'Connor the chance to go back to headquarters and stand yet again on the hallowed turf and, while he won't have one of his own crafted hurleys in his hand, he will still puck every ball with the side he has helped guide through the challenges of Cork and Munster Championship.

"Looking at it the other day I noticed that we started training for this season back in January 19 last year. That is twelve months on the go, but that is the price of being successful.

"Touch wood every fella we have is fit right now and that is probably the first time I can say that since we began. Of course, you hope that the last few training sessions will be okay so again touch wood that they all make it to Sunday unscathed."

O'Connor may have a full panel to pick from but he knows that the challenge ahead won't be easy.

"I don't know that much about Graigue-Ballycallan really except they won the Kilkenny championship so that in itself makes them a formidable side. I know that they are also the Kilkenny Under 21 champions with seven or eight of that side playing in this one. I know they have James Doyle, Eddie Brennan and players like Billy and Sean Ryan - and all of them will be hard to watch for the whole game.

"I think they are a very similar side to us really with a similar age demographic and talent available. There is no doubt that this one will be tough with little between the sides so really it will be who performs on the day."

O'Connor isn't likely to spend too much time worrying about the Leinster Champions as his own side carry plenty of threats themselves to any side that fails to deliver on any given day.

"The lads have been working hard in training all year and working even harder on the pitch. We have shown great spirit and a real never say die attitude all year and that is down to the players.

"When the pressure was on in the Munster Final they came through. When their backs were to the wall against Fr O'Neills in the County Championship they scored 1-7 to 0-1 to win out.

"This bunch are a different breed from anything that has gone before in Charleville - and that is not saying anything about the players that gave it their all over the years. This bunch have been used to winning since they were in school.

"They have been collecting titles all their hurling lives, it is what they know and you can see that in them. They don't know when they are beat. They keep going all the way.

"In the Munster Final, we were down 10 points at half time and I asked Tony [McAuliffe] and John [Moloney] was it more than a six-point lead - both, like me didn't know.

"We didn't panic on the line, on the pitch or in the dressing room - there was no hitting the wall - we knew what we had to do and we did it. This is a side that know what to do.

"We have Darragh [Fitzgibbon] and everyone knows about him at this stage. They [Graigue-Ballycallan] will try to mark him but he will try to play his game. Darragh will keep going all the way to the end.

"He will push hard to the finish. It is hard for club players to match inter-county players like Darragh for over 60 minutes. We hope that he gets the chances and can take them.

"As a team, we will need to take our chances. We need to get our wides tally down on Sunday. We have got this far with 15+ wides a game but that will need to be improved on. That will need to be in single figures at worst."