The Rower-Inistioge have earned a chance in a million, but whether or not the players can strike it rich is largely up to themselves.
“They have the ability to win. I know they have,” were the assured words of Rower-Inistioge manager, Ger Morrissey, who with fellow sideline strategists Pat Dunphy, Robbie Hennessy and Michael Muldowney, the Rower Selection Committee, has plotted a course that will reached the end of an epic journey in Croke Park on Saturday.
The Rower will contest the All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final against Kilnadeema-Leitrim (Galway). It will be a winners take all occasion.
The Rower have a right good chance of following in the footsteps of Clara, who won the title 12 months ago. Sport brings no gurantees, however.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the players,” said manager Morrissey, who will have to step down from his duties as mentor with the Kilkenny CBS in the Leinster schools championship on Saturday because ‘Croker calls’.
“This is the chance for this generation of Rower-Inistioge players to write their piece of history. This chance won’t come again. How many times would a club team from Kilkenny get to Croke Park? We have a good mix of players in the panel, in terms of age and abilities.
“This is their time. The players know it. I expect they have the maturity now to deal with the pressure of the huge test that lies ahead.”
The Rower officials got a chance to run the rule over Kilnadeema-Leitrim on Saturday when they scored a somewhat surprise 2-11 to 0-15 win over Youghal (Cork). The Cats were impressed, very impressed.#
“They are a good team,” Mr Morrissey insisted. “It is going to be a cracker of a match. It is down to whoever wants it the most, I suppose. They are a very decent outfit. Youghal were good too. That was the tough half of the semi-final draw, the Munster against the Connacht champions.
“We had it handy enough against Clooney Gaels (Antrim). It was a good day’s work for us to have a look at them. You can only learn so much from a DVD or whatever. To see a team in the flesh is good.
“They have nice hurlers. David Tierney at half-back was very, very well. He delivered good ball into the forwards. Gary Molly at corner-forward impressed too. There is a lovely balance to their team.”
As champions in Kilkenny, the Rower knew when they started out on the road that a visit to Croke Park was a possibility. Now comes the moment of destiny.
The players are in good form, the club officials assured. Injuries to various players have come right. All know Saturday will be a big test. The players are ready to go.
“I would be optimistic,” Ger Morrissey said. “Having said that, the opposition are very good.”
The Rower-Inistioge started the 2013 season as ever - hoping to win the Kilkenny title.
“The first thing is to do well in the league and to win the county championship,” Ger Morrissey recalled. “That was accomplished. The momentum has grown since. Over the last couple of months we have had some decent matches, produced some class performance.
“The players have responded to every challenge. Now comes the chance to perform in Croke Park in front of their families. Everyone is happy and ready for action. It is a whole community thing. The club never experienced anything like this.”
The victory over Buffers Alley (Wexford), a senior club in 2012, was a huge achievement on the rocky road to Dublin. The Rower had been stuck in the intermediate division for 25 years.
A well known club, with a history linked with a hurling genius like Keher (Eddie), earned the right to fly among the best in Kilkenny in 2014. However, Saturday’s bit of business has to be transacted first.
“This is unknown territory for us all,” Ger Morrissey continued. “We hope to give the people another good day out. People can sit in the seats. We have a job to do on the sideline.
“The players ground out a few great results during the year when push came to shove. We had a tough match against Thomastown in the championship. We were pushed all the way that day, but the players responded well and we kept going.
“We were under tremendous pressure again in the county final against Emeralds, but we dug out a winning effort. Similarly we were tested against Buffers Alley in the Leinster final, but the players stuck at it.
“The players have performed well in difficult games, at difficult times in game. They have the hurling. Now it is a matter of getting it out of themselves. They have to hurl for 60 minutes. I know it is a cliche, but it is reality too. I couldn’t imagine any manager saying anything different.
“I know we have the talent to get over the line. Hopefully things won’t go against us. You have to have a presence of mind in these big matches. Good players, quality players, will always do the right thing with the ball.
“If they don’t have the ball, they have to work. It is the collective effort. All have to be tuned in and thinking that way.
“We have never taken anything for granted. We couldn’t. The club minors, junior A and B teams and football team in the club went well. there is a good winning mentality. Long may it last.”
When the Rower-Inistioge club people watched and admired Clara winning this championship last year, little did they think that their turn was so near.
“What Clara did over the past 18 months was an inspiration to everyone, every club,” Mr Morrissey continued. “The long term benefits of a win in this championship could be huge. You learn that from looking at other clubs in Kilkenny who haves enjoyed good campaigns in the Leinster and All-Ireland championships.
“It strengthens the will, character and belief. Winning is a habit. You have to have the hurlers in the first place. But once you have the hurler, they must have a lot more besides. Talent is of little use without hard work.
“Our lads have ground out some fantastic results during this journey. Now they have to see the job through to the finish. It won’t be easy. Nothing worth having ever is. The players are ready. If all give everything that is in them, then they won’t be far off the mark.”