THE Clara players followed the game plan to perfection and that, on top of their huge desire for success, helped them record their fourth win in the Kilkenny intermediate hurling championship, writes John Knox.
“To win any championship in Kilkenny is a great achievement,” insisted thrilled team manager, Robert Shortall. “It was an awful day for hurling. While you never complain about Nowlan Park, and we still wouldn’t, the terrible weather left it in a bad way. But when you get to a final, you don’t care how you win.
“You have to play in all kinds of conditions to get there. The fact that on the day the conditions didn’t suit hurling won’t bother us too much. Still, I thought our lads played really well.”
They got on top early, as they were asked by the management team. They never stopped working, as they were asked.
“You could see it in the lads that they were ready for the final,” Robert continued. “I said it to a few of the selectors before the match that I couldn’t be happier with the way the lads were. They were really focussed.
“There were two things we emphasised, one being to get a good start; we hadn’t got a good start in any of our championship games; and the second thing was work rate. We wanted to put St Patrick’s under pressure all over the field.
Good start, half the battle
“The lads executed those demands perfectly. That was probably the winning of the game, the good start and hard work thereafter.”
The club won the league and championship double, with was a vindication of their superior in the division this season.
“The league wasn’t a priority,” the manager admitted. “But the way the games came after the All-Ireland hurling final replay with everything pushed together we felt it was worth putting out a strong team, going for it and trying to get momentum off it. That is what we did. Right now, it is good to have both titles.
“The league wouldn’t be worth a lot without the championship, but now we have the two titles it is great.”
He said no one could ever plan to win the double. Clara didn’t ever think about it. After being relegated from the senior division the previous season, their one and only goal was to win the championship and the promotion that went with it.
“We went through the season unbeaten and put up some impressive performances along the way. I hope that will stand to the lads, and it will make a difference next year and in years to come.
“Being relegated last year was as bad as anything could be for us. It hurt everyone. To be fair, these guys don’t mess about. They are serious about their hurling. When you are serious about something, you put in the effort and if it doesn’t work, the disappointment is harder to take.
No safety net
“That was the way it was with us. There is no safety net or we couldn’t say ‘ah well, we didn’t really try’. We didn’t, and we were still relegated. Relegation broke our hearts. “While I never doubted the talent of the players, or that they wanted it, it was a tough ask to get straight back up. There is great satisfaction at having achieved it. I would say the players feel really happy about it.
“They were under a cloud for a long time. That cloud has lifted now, hopefully, and they can drive on.”
It was suggested that an easy option after the deep disappointment of relegation would have been to be half hearted about things this season.
“Relegation could have been divisive too,” Robert suggested. “That was something I was afraid of, that negativity would set in. To be fair to the club committee, they backed myself and the lads again. I didn’t take that for granted.
“They told us to have another go at it. To be honest, that probably came from the players, that they wanted us. That meant a huge amount to myself, Joe (Casey), Mark (Dowling) and Liam (Egan). That was the start of it.
“To be fair, there was no one blaming anyone. I hope the club is stronger all round for that after the way things have turned out. To come out on the winning side of things is great. Hopefully it will lead to better things.”
There was the Leinster club championship now (against Dublin side, Eoghan Ruadh in Blakestown on Sunday), which could be an opportunity to further help the progression of the team.
“I hope the players see things that way,” Robert said. “Anyone will tell you, the real prize was to regain senior status. It wasn’t about a cup. It wasn’t about a medal. It was senior status again.
Achieved fantastic things
“Whatever happened along the way, that was the prize, but…..We have seen other Kilkenny teams doing well in outside club competitions. They have achieved fantastic things.
“The first thing you have to do is make up your mind that you want to try to win it, and then go after it. We have a game next weekend. I think in a few days times the lads will start to think ‘yes, we will have a go at this’.
“If they do, who knows what will happen. The more hurling we can get the better we can become. I haven’t seen it over the years that the club championship had a negative impact on clubs the following season if they enjoyed a good run.
“It can be a great platform to build on for the following season. That might be in the future, who knows? Today the players’ proved themselves. Now the challenge is to kick on, be that in Kilkenny, Leinster or wherever.
“Victory is what you make of it yourself. Last year in the relegation final Dicksboro beat us by one point after two hours of hurling. They ended up in the senior final this season. Anything is possible for those who want something badly enough.”