Monday 23 September 2019

'Gunners' leaving no stone unturned to lift Munster hoodoo

Ballygunner boss Fergal Hartley and his troops bid to emulate the class of 2001. Photo: Sportsfile
Ballygunner boss Fergal Hartley and his troops bid to emulate the class of 2001. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

People like Pat McCarthy are the lifeblood of the GAA and it was no surprise that Waterford University Hospital was the first port of call after Ballygunner's five-in-a-row heroics.

A valued member of their backroom team during that time, McCarthy sadly passed away a few days after being visited by players and management but the Waterford city club which he helped to found in 1954 lives on.

Along with his beloved wife Breda, McCarthy took charge of the Ballygunner jerseys for more than 30 years, going through countless washing machines, to ensure the men in black and red hoops always looked pristine.

McCarthy served numerous roles from player to hurley carrier, mentor to sponsor and committee member to kitman during his life and he will be a notable absence from the sideline for tomorrow's Munster final in Semple Stadium (2.0).

Ballygunner have suffered heartache in the pursuit of their second provincial crown and find themselves in a similar situation to when they finally got their hands on the O'Neill Cup in 2001.

It was a case of fifth-time lucky after previous final defeats and tomorrow will be their fifth decider ('05, '09, '15 and '17) since that fateful December day when club legend Stephen Frampton helped to drive them over the line.

"That was a magical moment. It made it all the sweeter because we had bloody lost for so long. It was very sweet," Frampton recalls of his finest club hour.

Having been involved with training the likes of Eddie Hayden, Peter Hogan and Mikey Mahony from the current senior crop, Frampton is delighted to see vast amounts of underage work bear fruit.

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Despite their position at the edge of Waterford city, Ballygunner consider themselves "a country club with farmland all around us" and their catchment area is unique in that it "depends on what school you go to who you play for" between city rivals De La Salle, Roanmore or the Gunners.

Frampton would gladly pass on the mantle of Munster champions to Fergal Hartley's side but he knows it's not that easy.

"Oh Jesus, absolutely, they deserve it but I know myself in sport, you don't always get what you deserve," he says.

"But they've been fantastic and it'd be great for them with the standards they've set in the last five years. They've just been an outstanding team, they put in a phenomenal effort. It's only a bit of luck and something going your way that could be the difference maker."

The rub of the green went their way in an epic semi-final with Tony Kelly's Ballyea, however, as a late resurgence saw them score an unlikely extra-time win with Philip Mahony's last-gasp goal the catalyst for victory.

"Those are the games that we may have lost in the past. We were dead and buried and Philip came up with a fabulous piece of skill," Frampton recalls.

"I said to a guy beside me with two minutes to go, 'look sure, great game, we were beaten by the better team and that's the way it goes', that's the beauty of sport."

Standing in their way tomorrow are a Na Piarsaigh side unbeaten in five provincial campaigns which can boast Limerick All-Ireland winners Mike Casey, William O'Donoghue, Shane Dowling and Peter Casey.

While Dowling outlined earlier this week how he might never be able to speak of their All-Ireland club final replay defeat to Cuala in March, the Treaty side have tormented Ballygunner's trophy chase with three excruciating defeats (2011, '15 and '17).

"They're a fabulous club. We hit the Clare golden era in the '90s when if it wasn't St Joseph's, it was Wolfe Tones or Sixmilebridge or Clarecastle," adds Frampton. "We just couldn't get over the Clare obstacle in those times. Right now it's Na Piarsaigh that are ruling Munster."

They present a formidable task but it says a lot about Ballygunner's provincial pursuit that they have a staggering 19 backroom team members, with no stone unturned to end their Munster misery.

Stats man Sean O'Donnell is one of those and after helping Limerick end their 45-year All-Ireland famine, Ballygunner will hope his expert insight can also lead them to the promised land.

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