SUCCESS and the enjoyment harvested through it on the hurling fields of Ireland have made Ballyragget people almost recession proof, and they barely know it is winter, writes John Knox.
That was the ‘never felt better’ story from St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) manager, Maurice Aylward, after he completed the senior/junior All-Ireland club double by guiding the Northerners to victory in Croker Park where he had sampled success with his native Ballyhale Shamrocks in the past.
“That game tested us every way, including the state of the ticker,” smiled Maurice after Charleville (Cork) were beaten in a pulsating club junior decider. “The ticker must be good to stand up to that.”
“That” was a nail-biting, nerve testing finish during which St Patrick’s needed a late point to beat gifted opponents.
“I didn’t think I would ever get back into an All-Ireland final with a team after I finished with the Shamrocks,” continued the retired Coillte worker. “The buzz is great.
“You know what,” he continued, “the people in Ballyragget don’t know there is a recession in the county they are having such fun following this team. They don’t even know we are in the middle of winter.
“The people are in the field every night watching the team training, doing what they can to help. The women are there helping out too, feeding the players and so on. I don’t know what these people will do next week.
“The whole experience with the club has been great for me.”
Saturday was a day short of 12 months since Mr Aylward started working with the team. What has been achieved could never have been imagined. St Patrick’s impressive haul in that time amounted to seven trophies.
“This is a young team. It can only improve if they keep together and stick at it,” was his summary off the current state of play as St Patrick’s gear up for the intermediate league/championship in a few weeks time. “This performance left me convinced that the players can drive on. There is more work to be done. Bit by bit we are getting there.”
Mr Aylward suggested that for sheer will to win, the beating of Charleville ranked as St Patrick’s best match ever.
“I don’t think I was ever in a tighter match and came out on the winning side,” the manager admitted. “The feeling at the finish whistle was pure magic, absolutely unbelievable.”
Will never wilted
He said St Patrick’s had super and average periods in the game, but the will to give, give, give never wilted.
“That was as good a junior All-Ireland final as was ever played,” Maurice reckoned. “At half-time we pointed out we had been on top and then we let Charleville back into the game. I believed at that stage that we had put our bad patch behind us.
“I was hoping they had put their best spell behind them too. The second half was nip-and-tuck, but we always had a small edge. The hurling in the second half was brilliant. It was intense. There were good scores, good blocking down, great catching, great passing and intelligent use of the ball.
“Charleville had some great, physically strong men who were hard to handle. We knew that and we tried to counter that. We had two small wing-backs, but they handled the situation well.
“There is so much skill in this team I simply try and encourage it out of the players; let the players express themselves freely. They are young and improving team. Fifteen or so on the panel are under-21. The thing like not putting a team away when you are on top will come right with experience.”
He said St Patrick’s, who had an easy passage through Leinster, needed games like this final to prepare them for the demands of the intermediate championship. The semi-final against Ballygar (Galway) was also a learning exercise.
“They will come on a ton after this win. They are getting different experience and they are learning,” he reckoned.
The junior championship was dominated for the past three years by Munster. The Cats stopped that.
“The challenge for the players now is to drive on and build on this,” the manger continued. “They will. They will improve. At my age it is wonderful to be part of something like this. Now we all have to kick on together.”