In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely writes about Ballybrown’s intermediate hurling success.
THE heartbreak that had engulfed them for years finally came to an end last Saturday in Kilmallock. They had come so close over recent years but they would make no mistake this time round - seldom has a victory meant so much.
For so many who had worked so hard for years the joy of winning and a return to senior ranks has completed the project for Ballybrown. It has taken longer than maybe they first thought it would but I got the sense, watching this vibrant team, that they are now in a much better position to survive at senior level than they would have been in past years.
Ballybrown displayed energy, pace and craft - the sort of stuff that will make them a really good senior team and a match for most teams at this grade in Limerick. The intermediate championship this year produced some very good games but you always got the feeling that Ballybrown were gauging their run and had their sights firmly set on finally making the breakthrough.
One of the big differences I saw with Ballybrown this year was that so many of their players had matured, they had taken the next step and, unlike in the past, they were now more focused on playing hurling and the sideshows had disappeared.
Last Saturday was like a day borrowed from summer and credit to both Ballybrown and Dromin-Athlacca they produced a fine game of hurling that had the very large crowd involved in the game right to the end. The atmosphere was outstanding, the players responded and overall we had some great individual performances. Both teams played with great honesty and it added to what was a great sporting occasion.
The score line will show it was close to the finish but, in truth, Ballybrown had control in the vital areas but some of their shooting could have cost them dearly as they hit 13 wides in all. Ballybrown got into the game from the very start and with less than ten minutes gone they had scored six points, four from play, and the overall speed of their game was causing problems for Dromin-Athlacca.
At this stage Ballybrown were flying, James Kennedy was in control at full back while Kyle Loftus was winning a lot of ball at midfield. The big difference was in attack where Ballybrown were playing a fast ball and the movement of their forwards left the Dromin-Athlacca defence very open. Alan O’Connor has added a new edge to his game, everyone will be aware of his free taking abilities but his work rate, coupled with his distribution, was outstanding.
The Ballybrown player who has impressed me most this year is Shane Kenny; this young player had a brilliant year. He has good skills matched with lightening pace and I think this man has the class to survive at the highest level. Another player who had a very good game for them last Saturday was Bryan Griffin. He scored three fine points and if he could add more pace to his game he has the hands to go to another level.
It took Dromin-Athlacca some time to settle but they can thank that great club man Paul Neenan for getting them into the game. He finished his side’s top scorer but once he got going he brought other lads into the game. Kyle Loftus had a couple of bad wides after doing so much good work, most of those wides came about due to not shortening his hurley as he approached goal. Despite this Ballybrown added more points, Griffin and Alan O’Connor were doing well and that saw them leading 0-10 to 0-4 at the break.
Dromin-Athlacca had more purpose about them in the second half; they looked to one of the best young hurlers I think Limerick have coming up, David Reidy. This player has huge potential and while it will take him a while to learn his trade he deserves to be part of the Limerick senior set up.
His two points helped rally his team but when Stephen Foster hit what looked like a harmless delivery very few expected to see it end up as a goal. It turned out to be a telling score. One had to admire the spirit and drive of Dromin-Athlacca despite such a setback. They followed with some great points and put huge pressure on Ballybrown nearing the end. They held them scoreless for ten minutes but despite all of their efforts Dromin-Athlacca could not close the gap.
When the game ended Ballybrown mentors and players embraced and their shouts of joy echoed loudly around Fitzgerald Park. The heartbreaking years had come to an end and while current players and mentors can rightly take so much of the credit it must not be forgotten that others will have played their part in other years.
It has taken a huge effort from so many in Ballybrown to get back to senior level and they will know only too well that the work does not stop and the focus must always be on the youth coming through. Dromin-Athlacca were manly on the field and also at the finish as they waited to see Ballybrown celebrate.
Ballybrown have now returned to senior and this arena will suit them. They now face into the Munster Club and I expect them to go a long way in this next phase of the championship.
1. Kiely crosshead