THE tough battle and near miss St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) experienced against Ballygar (Galway) in Sunday’s All-Ireland club junior hurling semi-final was just what the doctor ordered.
Maurice Aylward, the manager with the Kilkenny and Leinster champions, said things had come too easily in the Leinster championship, so it was a beneficial experience for the team to get a right good test, even a scare.
“A semi-final can be a difficult match to handle,” said the vastly experienced boss who has won the senior club All-Ireland title with his home club, Ballyhale Shamrocks. “There is always tension there because there is something bigger, more appealing beyond the semi-final.
“That brings its own bit of pressure and tension. Having said that, we needed that game. We flew too easily through Leinster. We got no real test there, so a good searching test like this will do us no harm, no harm at all.”
The team manager admitted that St Patrick’s made hard of winning in the end, but the main thing was that they won the match and they were in the final.
“The conditions and the pitch, it was in good conditions but it was heavy, didn’t suit us,” he reckoned. “We never got a chance to open up the game and play the type of hurling we like to play.
“There was a lot of crowding. That suited Ballygar. They were stronger physically and they were able to get over the ball better than our lads. We had chances, but we didn’t convert enough of them. We were the better team overall, but still the result could have gone either way in the end.”
The way things turned out was ideal for St Pat’s, because management, including selectors, Mark Swan and Tom Phelan, would be able to do a bit of stright talking with the players before the decider.
“The players won’t be under an illusions going into the match against Charleville,” Mr Aylward insisted. “This is all part of the learning curve for us. Semi-finals are always tough games. They rarely go according to plan, and this one didn’t go according to plan for us.
“That was the first big test for us. We expected the standard to improve in the All-Ireland series, and this was a sharp reminder about how hard and tough it can be. To be honest, Ballygar were probably a bit better than the information we had on them suggested.
Nothing to lose
“They had nothing to lose. We will have to improve a lot when facing Charleville. One of the most encouraging aspects of our play was that we were able to hit back for a score on most occasions they registered one. In the first half were were very unlucky not to have replied with a goal on one occasion. We were always able to keep a three or four point cushion, however.
“The final will be a totally different challenge. There is a lot of work to be done. We strayed a little today from what we would call the basics. The type of forwards were have you need the ball going in to them fast. We didn’t do that often enough.
“We are where we want to be in, in the final in Croke Park. The final will be a totally new ball game. We will prepare well, and we will be ready.”