After a disappointing season at club level in 2021, the Ballyduff man redoubled his efforts and is playing better than ever
There is something hugely inspirational about a player having a look in the mirror, deciding that things weren’t going the way that he wanted, and undergoing a transformation, in mind and in body, to turn his sporting life around.
In any walk of life, that is a difficult thing to do. Nobody really enjoys self-examination. Nobody enjoys picking out their own faults, accepting them, and then having the belligerent determination to meet the personal challenges head on, and relish the difficult task of changing the dial.
However, after the pain-staking process is endured in the goal of self-improvement, seeing the visible results, on and off the field of play, is such a positive. It becomes almost like a release valve, where the pressure to get better begins to wear away, often replaced by a new-found comfort in the person’s own skin that all the sacrifices have been worthwhile.
Ballyduff’s Eoin Ross did not enjoy the 2021 hurling season. Making the big breakthrough at inter-county level was proving to be elusive, and his county championship with his club certainly didn’t go as planned. Two red cards, a group stage exit, and plenty of time to ponder what was holding him back.
Fast forward to this year, and the change in the 24-year-old’s fortunes has been clear for all to see. By general consensus, Ross is the most improved hurler in the county, fitter, faster, more disciplined, more influential, more of a leader than ever before. He has taken his game to a whole new level.
Undoubtedly, his family have played a big part, as have his team-mates and management in Ballyduff and, unquestionably, the impact of Stephen Molumphy and the Kingdom backroom team.
But the reality is that this is principally down to the man himself. Eoin Ross was simply not willing to accept the status quo. He knew there was an awful lot more in the locker. Now it’s coming out.
Finally showing that he belonged at inter-county level, in a season that culminated in another Joe McDonagh Cup final appearance, did wonders for the versatile star’s self-confidence. Delivering the goods against the Offalys, the Antrims and the Wexfords of the hurling world was an important stepping stone in his rejuvenation.
Even though he then missed the opening county championship game against Causeway (a legacy of the sendings-off which plagued him last year), Ross has just carried on from where he left off with Kerry.
Whether it’s attacking, defending, shooting, man-marking, you name it, Ballyduff now have another serious talisman, in the mould of the Boyle brothers. That’s how good he has been.
As he prepares for Sunday’s county final at Austin Stack Park, Ross is in a good place, a very good place. But while he has travelled some amount of road over the last twelve months, he is not finished yet. Far from it. There are many more goals that he wants to achieve. Starting with bringing the Neilus Flynn Cup back to the parish.
“When we went in with Kerry, we had a sports psychologist. We all met him one-to-one, and I told him what my goals were for the year. I wanted to be starting for Kerry, and I wanted to improve my performances on the field. We sat down, we had our own little meetings, and from what he told me about what exercises to do, it seems to work,” he said.
“That’s what I’m putting it down to anyway, plus the nutrition, the set-up we had this year was second to none inside with Kerry. What Stephen Molumphy brought to the table is unbelievable. I don’t think there was one fella inside there who didn’t enjoy his year.
“It was strict, there was no room to slack inside there, you couldn’t hide, but everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, and we seemed to enjoy it. When you’re getting good results, and you’re playing a good standard of hurling, it’s always enjoyable.
“There were those two red cards last year. That had a lot to do with the way I turned myself around this year. I just wanted to show people that that wasn’t who I was, and I hope I’m after doing the best I could so far this year. Hopefully, we can drive on now.
“We had Shane Briggs training us there with Kerry, he was our coach, and I think he used over 250 different drills throughout the year, which was massive. When you’re constantly using the ball, two or three nights a week with Kerry, then you are bound to improve.”
Of all the areas of his game that have been developed this season, from the increased accuracy in his long-range point-scoring, to the reserves of stamina built up that have enabled him to go box-to-box match after match, to the added powers of concentration that are enabling him to shut down key opposition players, there is one thing that has pleased Ross the most. He has found a burst of speed, which he didn’t think he had!
“It’s my pace really, I was never known as one of the fast lads, but I think I am nearly up there now. I put it down to my pace. I just put a lot of work into the gym over the last twelve months, two years, and it seems to be showing now,” he added.
“I looked up to the Boyles as a young fella, of course, and seeing them in with Kerry, that’s where you want to be. You want to be known like them. What they have done for the club is second to none. Mikey just loves the club, and when you see that inside in the dressing-room, he’s a good man to motivate you.
“He’s a great leader to have, he’s a man you would always listen to, because you can trust him, and he can see the game differently to other people. As for Sunday, it’s been five years [without a title], and five years to me in Ballyduff is a drought. We’re not going there to lose, that’s for sure, even though we’re a young team, and Causeway are favourites.”
Into their third final in the last four years, Sunday’s opponents will certainly not be under-estimated within the Ballyduff camp. They know full well what Stephen Goggin’s side are capable of, but Ross has an itch that he wants to scratch. With just the solitary county championship medal in the trophy cabinet, from when he was a teenager, he wants to taste that winning feeling again.
“My father [club chairman Liam] is always teasing me, because he has seven, and I have a long way to go, because I have only the one. As far as I’m concerned, Ballyduff is a hurling club.
"Hurling is number one here, even though we do play a bit of football too. What it would mean to win a senior county hurling championship, words can’t describe it. I would love to get another one.”
Eoin Ross cannot wait for the sliothar to be thrown in at the weekend. After all his hard graft, he has come to the realisation that he can now rely on himself to produce the goods. And Ballyduff, and Kerry, can rely on him too.
A victory on Sunday would be the icing on the cake in his year of redemption. He won’t be easily stopped now.