As the years roll by, success becomes all the sweeter and a third Laois SHC title in a row is cherished by Clough-Ballacolla stalwart Willie Hyland because he knows that it may be his last.
The former Laois star, who was forced to retire from county duty in 2016 due to chronic hip problems, didn’t know he was starting until a few days before the final and he didn’t let manager Declan Laffan down with a stellar display.
“I’m kind of stunned to be honest because I only found out I was playing on Tuesday night. Most of the games during the year, I was only coming on for two and three minutes and then I was told on Tuesday night I was starting,” a beaming Hyland said.
“I’d still be with the county if I could, I’m just banjaxed. I haven’t played one full game the whole year, even in challenge games and other games. I came on in the semi-final for two minutes, I came on against Camross in the group stages for three minutes.
“I was asking the management, ‘Am I going to get 10 or 15 minutes?’, then they tell me I’m starting. I looked around in the parade, it could be my last time ever playing with a full crowd here and I just love the occasion.
“That’s what you hurl for. When I was down as a child watching my father train when they were intermediate, I never thought I’d be playing in a senior county final and you just embrace the occasion.
“All those days when you’re practising as a young lad, hurling in a senior county final just makes it all worthwhile. That’s what you dream of. We’re on a roll and it’s an amazing time to be part of the club.
“I’ve seen the not so good days, the semi-finals and finals that we lost and you need to savour these days because I definitely don’t have much left. I’ll enjoy this, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Surrounded by daughters Meabh, Aoibhinn and Katie – while another child is due on Friday – Hyland soaked it all in after the 34-year-old delivered an action-packed display, proving a point to one of his daughters.
“Meabh said to me during the week, ‘Daddy I wish you could play in the county final, but you’re gone too old’ and I had to bite my tongue because I knew I was starting. I won’t lie, it kind of hurt me a bit but I think she enjoyed it and we made it a special day.”
Hyland hailed the character of Clough-Ballacolla having bounced back from a Leinster final hammering to Ballyhale Shamrocks last December – which he described as a “s*** show” – and the Laois kingpins are keen to give the province another rattle.
“There’s great resilience in this team. You’d be half-tempted just to leave it after last year but to do three in a row, there was always a carrot there at the end of it.
“There’s something different about this team. We’d a great run in Leinster last year, we’d an unbelievable time, we beat the Dublin champions, the Wexford champions, something a Laois team hasn’t done in a while.
“We were obviously stuffed by Ballyhale, which was a hard one to take, but there’s great resilience in this team. There’s great character, there’s a great spirit in the group and it’s as close a team as I’ve been involved in.
“We have the Dublin champions again. We played Cuala and Lucan in challenge games only recently and we don’t fear them. Whoever wins will be good champions but by God, we’ll be targeting that match in a big way. We proved last year that we can match anybody in Leinster, with the exception of someone like Ballyhale, but it’s one step at a time, it’s the Dublin champions and we’ll be giving it one hell of a rattle.”