Bennettsbridge have known the dark side of hurling, but victory in Sunday’s junior final could mark the dawning of a bright new future.
“That’s what we want it to be,” beamed thrilled manager, Christy Walsh, who in his three years in charge guided the club to as many county final appearances.
After defeats in the deciders of 2012 and 2013, the ’Bridge had their day in the sun on Sunday when they won the junior championship, promotion to the intermediate division and a crack at the Leinster championship.
“We will enjoyed this for a few days because it took us a while to get the win, but we will get the minds ready for Leinster quickly enough,” Mr Walsh added.
The ’Bridge are scheduled to take their bow in the provincial club championship on Sunday in Trim (2pm) against Dunderry (Meath), and they will be ready.
“This is the direction this club needs to be moving,” Mr Walsh said. “This is a big club with a proud tradition. We will enjoy the victory and we will have a go at the Leinster championship.
“We are Kilkenny champions and it would be expected of us that we will have a go. We can’t let the county down.”
Mr Walsh and fellow selectors, Mick Walsh, Tommy Lennon and Tim Drea intend using the club championship to gain as much experience for the players as possible as they build towards the intermediate championship in 2015.
“The more hurling the players can get under their belts the better prepared they will be for next season,” was the way the manager put it.
Never in doubt
Mr Walsh felt the result was never really in doubt. After the opening 10 minutes Bennettsbridge took over when playing against the breeze. Liam Blanchfield’s goal just before half time put us in control.
“Once Mooncoin didn’t get a run at us early in the second half we were okay,” he smiled. “The hurling in the second half wasn’t great, but Mooncoin weren’t getting any close to us which was the main thing.”
The close call the champions got against Galmoy in the semi-final had them warned to be on their guard this time. Some questioned that performance, but Mr Walsh never lost faith in the players.
“We finished strong, and scored 2-7 during the closing 12 minutes,” he reminded. “You couldn’t ignore that. That showed the class and fitness were both there. The pressure of playing in a third final in-a-row was there.
“That could have broken some, but not these lads. The fact the semi-final was so close knocked the fear out of our heads. The concentration was absolute on trying to put a stronger performance together.
“People were telling the players all the year that they would win the title. When you keep hearing that it can get into your head and leave you vulnerable.
“Looking back on that now, there was a reason why we were favourites. As it turned out we are the best team, and we have the best hurlers. We should be proud of that, uplifted by it, and especially so after the hard climb to the top.
“You can’t be hard on yourself all the time. We have good hurlers everywhere and the team can get better because of the age profile of the players.
Big challenge there
“The challenge is there for them now. The pressure is off. The younger lads had won stuff with St Kieran’s College and so on. The older guys had been here lots of years and often went home very disappointed from Nowlan Park.
“I am more pleased for the older members of the team for that reason. We will enjoy the victory. It is nice to have Leinster to look forward to.”
Team captain Robert Lennon described the victory as “great”. After two defeats, two years of pain and hardship, the players knew they had to do it this year.
“The determination was there to deliver. If we had lost, you wouldn’t know what might happen,” he said. “It would have been hard to pick things up and drive on again.
“Now we can look forward with some confidence. It won’t be easy, but it we work hard and continue to be as dedicated to the cause as we have been, we can give a good account of ourselves at intermediate level.
“People have no idea of the strong bond between the players. It is incredible. The hurt of the two defeats in the finals bound us closer together. We are all the best of friends. I have never seen a bond like this in any group.
“We are at the start of a new journey in Leinster now. We would like to do well there. Next year then intermediate. We can look forward to it.”
He said being part of a proud club like Bennettsbridge, with its magnificent past, was an inspiration. When the players heard stories of the men and achievements of the past it inspire them.
“The tradition in the club is something,” he assured. “The encouragement we received is wonderful. This was our day, and everyone in the parish was right behind us.
“We have to try and get to the level of the people who have gone before us. It won’t be easy. It might not happen, but we must try.
“This is a small parish. When we go down, we go down together. When we win, we win together.
“Winning Kilkenny at long last brings no guarantees, but at least it proves we are moving forward. We have worked hard to get where we are, but we must continue to work to try and improve because there will be plenty of big tests coming up in the future.”