Sunday 8 December 2019

Managerial merger bearing fruit as The Nire seek glory

Shane Walsh in action for The Nire
Shane Walsh in action for The Nire
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

In some ways, Sunday's Munster club SFC semi-final sees the meeting of kindred spirits.

As is the case in Clare with Cratloe, the GAA people around Ballymacarbry in Waterford, who power the Fourmilewater hurling team and The Nire footballers, aren't ones for choosing.

Picking football over hurling or vice-versa doesn't sit well. And even if you did, robbing Peter doesn't always mean Paul gets paid.

Last winter they needed a solution after things reached what The Nire selector Ger Walsh recalls as "an all-time low, morale was bad".

An innovative plan and an advert in the local paper brought significant change. It didn't meet with universal approval but the sister clubs came under the one management team.

"Previously, both teams would usually get to a quarter-final and then it was a tug of war," explains Walsh.

Benji Whelan, with his background in strength and conditioning, was appointed manager but that was the easy bit. More than 60 people were approached to form his management team but the commitment required was huge. In the end Ger Peters, Paudie Halpin, Michael Lawlor and Walsh came on board.

What followed was a combination of a balancing act and hedging of bets. Given that the footballers were usually in the shake up for championship honours, hurling took priority early in the year.

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It worked too, as they beat Abbeyside by nine points - a side they had lost to by 19 points 12 months earlier.

As the year went on, the juggling continued. It wasn't just matter of alternating nights. On certain evenings, the first half-hour would be dominated by hurling, touch games just to keep the eye in before downing tools and switching over.

With more than 10 players away during the summer with a variety of county teams, they could only play challenges and league games. Sometimes, they wouldn't have a team. But they kept at it, and the rewards would come.

In hurling, they came within a whisker of the knock-out stages. On the last day they managed a draw when a win would have put them in the quarter-finals.

Football was different. The Nire could almost guarantee they'd get close to it year on year but they could also guarantee that Stradbally would be there too, finding new and dastardly ways to beat them.

In the last five years, The Nire had lost two finals, two semi-finals and a last-eight clash. Four of those defeats were at the hands of Stradbally, who would win in replays, extra-time and even the last kick of the ball.

"It was getting to the point where maybe it was a bit of a mental block for us," says Walsh, older brother of midfielder Shane.

That changed in the county final and since getting over their arch-rivals, they beat Limerick champions Ballylanders to set up a shot at a Cratloe side still chasing glory on two fronts.

The Nire contested a Munster final against Dr Crokes in 2006 when they were close to an upset.

They've never got back to that stage. And despite the hours involved, no one around Ballymacarbry is ready to see the curtains come down on 2014 just yet.

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