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Persistence pays off with Ballysaggart set to swim with the sharks at senior grade

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Ballysaggart’s rise has been about perseverance and endurance as much as star power (stock photo)

Ballysaggart’s rise has been about perseverance and endurance as much as star power (stock photo)

SPORTSFILE

Ballysaggart’s rise has been about perseverance and endurance as much as star power (stock photo)

From around 60 members and maybe 90 houses, the miracle of Ballysaggart has grown.

It's not too long ago, current chairman Seamus Kearney recalls, that they struggled to pull together enough for a game. For much of their history, Ballysaggart, the 'other' club in the parish of Lismore, have been forced to busy themselves with the business of surviving.

Tomorrow night, they'll hurl senior for the first time.

"Back the couple of years before we won the county junior (in 2013), we had 17 players for a game," Kearney recalls.

"And we struggled to get those 17 togged out, so numbers were tight there for a while and a lot of years. And it was about survival, absolutely, and keeping things going.

"But momentum and having a good crop of young lads coming through is a big thing for us the last few years."

That's probably an understatement. Before 2013, Ballysaggart had won two Waterford junior titles since their foundation in 1885. And at that stage they played on a "very, very, very wet field that was reclaimed out of the side of a mountain".

Since then they've won the county JHC and claimed the Déise's first Munster club hurling title at the grade.

They've contested an All-Ireland decider in Croke Park and claimed a first county intermediate crown, a game county star Stephen Bennett described as "the best day I've had playing hurling". Remarkably, all of this was achieved under the same manager in Adrian Meagher.

Flying

If they were flying on the field then they gathered momentum off it too and they raised enough money to put in a sand-based pitch.

"We spent a lot of money on it but look, if you don't have a field you have nothing. And that was one of the foundation stones to drive on and take the next step."

And tomorrow night in Fraher Field, they'll swim with the sharks as they take on a De La Salle side that have contested two of the last three county finals.

The Bennett brothers, Kieran, Stephen and Shane, will be expected to carry much of the load, as they did in the intermediate decider when they contributed a combined 0-17 of the 1-19 total.

But Ballysaggart's rise has been about perseverance and endurance as much as star power. Kearney reckons they can tog around 38 hurlers and that this weekend, there could be three decades between the youngest and oldest members of the panel.

"We won junior in '13 and at that stage had six or seven lads who were straight out of minor so we knew we had a good bunch of lads coming through," Kearney says.

"They were very young at that stage but we knew we had a few coming behind them too. So we knew we had a good group but the biggest issue at the time was employment, we were very conscious that we were in the middle of a recession and whether we could hold them together or not was the big issue. And luckily they have come through, thank God.

"There is no question we are underdogs in the senior championship this year, but it is a huge chance. And it's the first time in 135 years in our history we are playing senior hurling."

Irish Independent