ST PATRICK’S (Ballyragget) coach, Matt Ruth, had been through the All-Ireland hurling final experience before, but he admitted that winning with his club was much more emotional than anything he had known.
The All-Ireland medal winner with Kilkenny in 1975, 1979 and 1982 admitted that his heart was all but in his mouth during the closing stages as a draw with Charleville (Cork) looked a real possibility.
“I was never so relieved to hear a final whistle,” Matt smiled when we spoke outside the dressing-room after the club’s first All-Ireland success. “Nearing the finish I was dreading a draw because Kevin Kelly has arranged to go away on holidays to Florida on Thursday.
“I was wondering what would happen if it ended level. Thankfully it didn’t come to that,” he laughed.
Matt described the victory as “fantastic” and “unbelievable”.
Beyond a dream
“To be involved with the club in an All-Ireland is something beyond a dream,” he continued. “This team came from nowhere over the past two years. It is a very emotional and humbling experience to be involved.
“You feel it much more than you would with the county. This is a win with your own clan. The players gave it their all. They put their bodies on the line. You can never ask for more.”
He argued that no ordinary team could produce a performance like St Pat’s did on the pressure day like in an All-Ireland final.
“The catching, striking, tackling and so on was massive,” he felt. “With more experience this team will get better. When you win something you can take a step forward. Winning helps build up confidence and self belief.
“Knowing you can perform in big matches is an important lesson to learn. Our players learned that today.”
He said the win was reward for all the people who had put in a huge amount of work with under-age teams over the years. Success didn’t flow, but the gradual improvement led to Croke Park and Saturday’s success.
Wing-back Patrick Cahill was one of the star performers for the winners. He took over from injured captain, Kieran Delaney, and, although faced by Charleville’s best attacker, the roving Mervyn Gammell, he turned in the proverbial stormer.
Was he proud?
“It was a wonderful experience, a once in a lifetime thing to win a match in Croke Park with your club,” he enthused. “I will remember this for the rest of my life. I knew I had to perform. I couldn’t let down the club.”
Kieran Delaney was full of encouragement before the match, and he had a few words for the players before they marched into battle.
“Kieran was gutted he couldn’t play,” Patrick continued. “He let us know what it all meant to him. My man scored a bit, but it was hard to chase him all over the field. It was unreal to play in and win in Croke Park.
Patrick got into the team against O’Loughlin Gaels in the Kilkenny championship, but didn’t hold down his place. He played 10 minutes in the county final and he has played a part in every match since. Starting the semi and final was massive, he insisted.
What was it like when Charleville got level with two minutes left?
“I kind of knew we wouldn’t fold,” Patrick smiled. “I knew someone; I didn’t know who would step forward and drag us through if we kept pushing. That is what happened.”