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O'Brien admits Croker clash beyond 'wildest dreams' of Ballysaggart

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Ballysaggart skipper Eugene O'Brien ahead of his side's AIB GAA Club Championship Junior Hurling Final in Croke Park today

Ballysaggart skipper Eugene O'Brien ahead of his side's AIB GAA Club Championship Junior Hurling Final in Croke Park today

Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Ballysaggart skipper Eugene O'Brien ahead of his side's AIB GAA Club Championship Junior Hurling Final in Croke Park today

STARING out the window of a Croke Park corporate box at the splendid stadium, Eugene O'Brien utters, almost absent-mindedly, that only in their "wildest dreams" did Ballysaggart think they'd be playing here.

One of the smallest clubs in Waterford have defied history and logic to get to within 60 minutes of an All-Ireland title when they take on Antrim's Creggan Kickhams today.

By winning their Munster title they became the first club from the county to secure a provincial junior title. When the townland evacuates this morning, six coaches will be more than enough to remove the entire population of the club's catchment area.

"It's unbelievable," says O'Brien, who skippers the side along with Christy Murphy. "It's crazy for young and old – it is only in our wildest dreams we'd be coming here to Croke Park. It's fairytale stuff really."

O'Brien recalls the near misses and explains the hurt. Getting over the line had been a problem of late.

Losing football finals had become such a habit that they decided to concentrate exclusively on hurling. They last won a county junior title in 2007, but that too carries regrets.

"In 2007 we won the county and we didn't think beyond that and we celebrated it. We played Ballyroe (in Munster) in 2007 and even though we didn't show up on the day, we were only beaten by a puck of a ball, so we were disappointed.

"We let ourselves down, so when we won it his year we said we had to get a Munster."

Perhaps the biggest addition since then has been the emergence of the Bennett boys. In 2012, Kieran, Stephen and Shane played on the same Waterford minor team. Last year, Stephen and Shane helped bring a rare All-Ireland minor title back to the Deise county.

But resources are scarce in every sense of the word in Ballysaggart. Despite having played for more than 20 years, O'Brien has no intention of walking away and he explains that the club, under the management of Adrian Maher, has work hard to develop all their players.

"They are marquee forwards up front, but it's a good team with good hurlers all over the pitch. We base our game on good team work and using space and not panicking and getting the ball up to the Bennetts on the other side of the field. It has been working so far."

The journey started with a challenge game in Mallow almost 12 months ago, the same venue where they secured the Munster title. No one is ready for it to end just yet.

Irish Independent