ST PATRICK’S turned in a hurling show that was full of passion, style and guts in the All-Ireland club junior hurling final, but it wasn’t their best performance ever.
No, according to selector Mark Swan, that came against Thomastown in the Kilkenny championship last season.
“It is hard to get hold of the emotions after a roller-coaster game like that,” Mark suggested when we spoke after the club’s biggest win ever. “There was some finish to that game. The time flew. We were under the pressure right to the finish. Nothing prepares you for that sort of thing.”
So, it was very, very good, perhaps the best ever, one suggested?
“I thought our best performance was against Thomastown in the championship,” was the reply. “The score line that day didn’t reflect how much better than them we were. That was our best showing in my reckoning.
“That was the complete performance. We were in and out of this final. I am not saying we didn’t play well, but I think the team can do even better. All the players did well. The challenge now is to drive on.
“Winning makes a difference. I said to them before they went out to think back to the last few days and to the amount of sleep the lost; think forward to next week and the amount of sleep they would lose if they lost the match. Have not regrets coming off the field was the idea.”
He recalled playing for Ballyragget in the 2003 county junior final, which they lost. He admitted that he still thinks about that game, how it was lost, why it was lost.
“I told the players to come off the field with the tank empty, and to make sure they have given their all,” Mark revealed. “They had to make sure they had no regrets, that there wasn’t a tackle they could have put in, a ball they should have passed or whatever.
“The players answered the challenge. No one left anything in the tank. Lads were getting knocked about, but they still got up and battled on. It is great to perform like that on the big stage.
“The atmosphere at pitch level was amazing. I can only imagine what it must be like for Kilkenny in a final when the place is full. This was a day like no other for Ballyragget. It has been an exceptional season for us.”
He said winning was ever so important for the team, the club, the parish.
“Only the players could win the game in the end,” Mark reminded. “It was level with time almost up. All pre-match plans were exhausted. It was down to the players. They came through brilliantly.
“Maybe we should have had a few more scores before that, but in fairness to Charleville, they were dogged and we were shooting all the time under serious pressure. The players dug deep. We knew Charleville were good finishers, so we had to out last them.”
Aylward was key man
Fellow selector, Tom Phelan, said the experience manager, Maurice Aylward brought to the backroom team was immense.
“Maurice has the experience to keep the players right, to keep them cool,” Tom insisted. “He had the experience to keep the focus right at half-time when the score was level after we had opened very well and then lost our way. If panic had set in, or we hadn’t a plan, were could have been in trouble.
“Maurice is a brilliant, brilliant man.”
For loyal clubman Tom, the victory was a dream; the performance superb.
“The players showed wonderful spirit and true determination,” he said. “Once we won the county final the belief began to grow that maybe we could win this title. Now we have done it. We have a lovely hurling team, and the players are gentlemen to work with.
“Anything you ask them to do, they will do it.
“You always get 100% from them. They have to kick on from here. We are in the intermediate grade in Kilkenny this season. If someone told us on February 11 last year when we began training that we would end up winning the All-Ireland club title we would have had them picked up and taken away.”
His father, Billy Phelan, who had an operation recently, couldn’t travel to Croker Park. His mother, Margaret, did, however, and Mark was thrilled that everyone from the parish got to enjoy a day like few others.
“The whole thing is absolutely brilliant,” he said when he signed off.