THE GOAL of every hurler is to play in Croke Park. For the men from the John Lockes (Callan) club, that wil become reality when they take on Meelin in the junior club All-Ireland final on Sunday – but there were a few butterflies to overcome first.
“We were a little nervous at times in that semi-final win over Inniskeen,” said Lockes manager Bobby Jackman.
“We were within touching distance of the dream that is playing in Croke Park. Often you can play in a semi-final, and the fear of losing – especially when you’re expected to beat the opponent, as we were against a Northern team – can weigh heavily on you.
“They (Inniskeen) were some nice hurlers, and their striking in the first ten minutes really shone,” he said. “They drove over some nice points from out the field in the early stages, and had half-time we were only three points up. However, in the second half we hit a golden patch in the first few minutes, and getting the ball into our full-forward line did the damage.”
For Callan, it was just another chapter of what has been an amazing story. Having gone so long without a game the All-Ireland final followed almost on the back of the Leinster final succes over Offaly’s Drumcullen.
“It’s been a tough campaign,” said Jackman. “It took a replay to get out of Kilkenny, then we’ve had matches on/off, on/off in Leinster. We had to keep the lads motivated while trying to find places to train – it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride to the final.”
However, with Croke Park next on the horizon there’ll be no trouble motivating players now!
“They’re really up for this,” Jackman said of the ’Lockes players. “We have some great leaders along every line in the field, and they have been the ones who have brought us along.”
The Lockes have been blessed with the perfect mix of youth and experience in their ranks. There are some young hurlers there, but they are based around a strong spine.
“When you have three or four lads around the minor age level people have the impression that we have a very young team,” the manager said. “We have those guys, but there is an age gap between them and the others.
“There are a few who are 21, 22 years of age, but we also have players from the 27 to 35 age group and over. It is a good core for a club team – we are defintely more experienced than people give us credit for.
“The older lads need the youth on the team and vice-versa,” he added. “There are some young hurlers in the side, but the rest are experienced campaigners, who have hurled at senior and intermediate level.
“You have Adrian Sullivan, who won an All-Ireland medal in Croke Park 20 years ago while Declan Roche won a minor All-Ireland in Croke Park in ’88,” said Jackman. “To be in a final for those lads, who might have thought they’d never get back into Croke Park, is a dream.
“Croke Park will be new to some of our players while others, like three minors (Jason Corcoran, Shane Bergin, Owen McGrath) hurled in an All-Ireland final there last September,” said Jackman. “However, as any club player will tell you – even guys who may have four or five county All-Irelands – to get there with your friends is something special.”
With their place in the final secured, you might have thought that there would be have been a roof-raising mood in the dressing-room following that win over Inniskeen in Mullingar, but it didn’t hit the same levels as in the past.
“There was probably more celebrating after winning the Leinster final,” he said the manager. “Going up to Rath we felt that the game was on more of an even keel – it was the outsiders going in against the Offaly champions. We played well that day, so to beat them in their own back yard and take the cup was unreal.
“After the Inniskeen game it was more relief than celebration,” he revealed. “Getting over the semi-final was more about the satisfaction of making Croke Park.”
Sunday’s final will be a big day, not just for the team but the supporters, who have grown in numbers all along the path that led to Croker.
“At the Leinster final we were in their ground and our supporters outnumbered theirs,” Jackman recalled. “Mullingar was a fair journey for the semi-final, but a few busloads of supporters made the trip – the noise they made was great. The whole community has really gotten behind us.”
It’s a mood reflected in the players and their achievements. As the games have gone on, the belief they can end their season as national champions has steadily grown – but much comes from the foundations laid locally. “From the moment we got into the Leinster championship the lads realised that coming from a Kilkenny competition, in any of the three grades, means you have a great chance of making a final,” Jackman said.
“Given the standard of hurling here, and what you have to win to get out of the county, you have a great chance of winning Leinster and getting to an All-Ireland – it’s a matter of getting over the first game or two and getting on a roll. The players realise that going out on the Field of Dreams, as someone called Croke Park, as an ordinary club hurler would be the ultimate achievement.”
Shot at glory
Of course the Lockes won’t be the only side there. Cork’s Meelin will be trying for a shot at glory too, and Jackman knows what his side will have to overcome to land the title.
“Meelin are a young, fast side,” he said. “They play a brand of hurling like Newtownshandrum did a few years ago. They are an up and coming club, where I think the oldest player is about 27, and have plenty of lively forwards. We have our homework done, and know what to expect.”
For now, the important thing is keeping the side focused on the big game.
“There’ll be plenty of excitement about the place, but we’ll try to keep our feet on the ground,” he said. “For the moment it’s training in Piltown on week-nights, then at our own club on the weekends. It will be a big game, but I think it’s only in the years that follow, when lads look back on it, that they’ll realise what an achievement it is to make a final in Croke Park with their own club.”
John Lockes panel - Paul Morrissey, Michael Gordon, Michael Roche, James Power, Adrian O’Sullivan, John O’Neill, Michael Hartley, J.P. Corcoran, Matthew Holohan, Robert Jackman, Paddy Kennedy, Owen McGrath, Ger Shelly, Simon Burke, Shane Bergin, Jason Corcoran, P.J. Coady, Declan Roche, Bill McCormack, Liam Kennedy, Eoin Fahey, Brian McCann.
Selectors: Bobby Jackman, Tommy Sullivan, Pat Purcell.
Path to the final
Leinster club quarter-final
John Lockes 0-12 Ballyfin 0-6
Scorers: John Lockes - Owen McGrath (0-6, frees); Simon Burke (0-3); Ger Shelly, Shane Bergin (0-1 each). Ballyfin - George Lanham (0-4, 0-3 frees); John Joe McHugh (0-2, frees).
Leinster club semi-final
John Lockes 0-11 Adamstown 0-10
Scorers: John Lockes - Owen McGrath (0-8, 0-6 frees); Matthew Holohan (0-2); Shane Bergin (0-1). Adamstown - Patrick Whitty (0-8, 0-6 frees); Shane O’Gorman (0-2).
John Lockes 2-14 Drumcullen 0-4
Scorers: John Lockes - Owen McGrath (0-7, frees); Simon Burke (1-2); Shane Bergin (1-0); James Power, Robert Jackman, Paddy Kennedy, Ger Shelly, Declan Roche (0-1 each). Drumcullen - Conor Gath (0-4, frees).
John Lockes 3-12 Inniskeen 1-9
Scorers: John Lockes - Ger Shelly (3-0); Simon Burke (0-4); Owen McGrath (0-3, 0-1 free); Robert Jackman (0-2); J.P. Corcoran, Paddy Kennedy, Shane Bergin (0-1 each). Inniskeen - Michael Lennon (1-3, 1-2 frees); Martin Murphy (0-3); Trevor Hilliard, T.J. Byrne (0-1 each); Ronan Meegan (0-1 free).