Sport Hurling

Thursday 23 November 2017

Lynch spurred on by the magic of 'three'

Ciaran Ryan (12) is congratulated by team-mate Damien Hayes after scoring for Portumna against Dunloy to help the Galway kingpins make today's AIB All-Ireland SHC
Ciaran Ryan (12) is congratulated by team-mate Damien Hayes after scoring for Portumna against Dunloy to help the Galway kingpins make today's AIB All-Ireland SHC final RAY MCMANUS / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

What is it about sport and doing things in threes? Whatever the code, whatever the discipline, the rule of thumb is generally universal across them all.

One is a sign of good, two is a sign of great and three together takes the person, team or animal into a different stratosphere altogether.

Think Cheltenham today and Master Minded's stab at a third successive Queen Mother. Later in the week there is Kauto Star's bid for a third Gold Cup, albeit not in successive years. In the past decade and a half Best Mate and Istabraq have been the iconic equine figures in the Cotswolds.

Three of anything is something really special, three in a row even more so. It puts the current Kilkenny hurling team into perspective. And by this evening it may also portray a brighter reflection of Portumna.

Statistically, the hurling world has been perusing the record books for the last 12 months now for angles on Portumna, like the footballing equivalent has rummaged through them with Crossmaglen in the past.

Most of what has been turned up gives credence to the expression of belief that they will be considered the greatest club hurling team of them all if they reel off a third successive title and a fourth in five years.

The most impressive element to their spectacular success is simply calculated and has its genesis is the darkest day since their rise as a hurling club superpower.

On an afternoon in Pearse Stadium in October 2006 Loughrea turned them over and this is something that apparently rankles in Portumna to this day.

They lost a brutal battle, cried foul on the treatment dished out to a young Joe Canning and then watched in dismay as a Board investigation shone the light back on themselves.


Their response was to embark on a ruthless spree. William Wallace didn't exact revenge like it for the defeat and double-crossing at Falkirk.

All but one of their unbroken sequence of 29 championship victories since that '06 county final have been won with merciless conviction; that was the 2008 Galway quarter-final against Clarinbridge, when they sailed close to the wind, winning by just two points. Goals have flowed through the twin axis of Canning and Damien Hayes.

Records have tumbled in their presence. In 2008 they racked up the highest ever winning total in a club final over 60 minutes with 3-19. Twelve months later they beat that again with 2-24 against a hapless De La Salle.

En route to their three previous All-Ireland titles they have beaten previous champions, James Stephens in the '06 semi-final, Newtownshandrum in the '06 final, Birr two years later and Ballyhale in last year's semi-final. Athenry have also been beaten in Galway.

Fissures of apparent vulnerability have been little more than a mirage, every small dip being met with a sharp rise.

They bristle at the notion that their pathway to All-Ireland semi-finals is benign with a sub-standard Galway championship and no Connacht championship to contest.

If the club championships operated the same system as championships themselves, would they be as successful?

It's not the argument the players say they have bought into or intend to until perhaps their day is done.

Eoin Lynch, their consistent midfielder of the last seven years, appreciates that things may not always be as they are now.

"It has just been a golden era for hurling in Portumna and we are well aware that it's not going to last. This team, like all teams, has their day and we're just trying to make the best of it.

Respect for older tradition is strong with Lynch -- now 27 and one of the eight Portumna players destined for John McIntyre's Galway squad once St Patrick's Day business is out of the way -- tipping his cap this week to their opponents' superior record.

"Ballyhale have four All-Ireland titles and so do Birr. We're still not at the top of the order. We're not driven by goals like that though. We don't take our success for granted. We're just focused on the next game and the next game at the minute is Ballyhale," said Lynch.

"We're only making a plan for the first half of the next game. After that we'll make a plan for the second half. It's not for the players to say how good this team is. It's for other people to talk about.

A minor in 2001, he quickly graduated to senior hurling in the next 12 months and has been virtually ever-present since, one of the unsung heroes outside the stellar names that dot the team.

Talent is one thing, but for Lynch it's the experience picked up that has steeled them as a team.

"I remember being inside in Pearse Stadium in 2003 when we won our first county final. The following year we lost to Athenry in the final and people were saying we were a little bit inexperienced. It was the same thing after we lost the semi-final in 2002.

"I remember not being able to grasp the talk about inexperience, but it's easy to see now how it counts in hurling. On the big days when you might be a point or two down, that experience can get you through."

Nothing though has steeled them more than that 2006 Galway county final. Thirty games later and they still haven't drawn breath. The magic figure of three may allow them brief respite.

Irish Independent

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