Seoirse Kenny (right) - players had to do some serious thinking
The school of hard knocks has taught Kilkenny champions, St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) a thing or two about what it takes to be successful and has helped prepare them for Sunday’s All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final.
The North Kilkenny outfit return to Croke Park, the scene of their junior club All-Ireland victory in February 2012, for the big showdown against Cork’s finest, Kanturk, who outclassed Middletown Na Fianna (Armagh) in the second semi-final at the weekend.
Long serving St Pat’s utility player, Seoirse Kenny, is looking forward to what will be a big challenge and big day for the club. He insisted he and his colleagues fully appreciated the opportunity to try to win another All-Ireland in Croker.
“It is nice to be looking forward to going back to Croke Park,” said the towering attacker.
“We were there in 2012 in the junior All-Ireland final and we were lucky enough to win. It is very exciting to be going back again.
“Playing in a final in Croke Park is a big, big deal for a club player. The whole adventure in the club championship is great. You meet, and if you are lucky, you beat quality teams.
“You learn a bit more about what is out there. The whole journey has been very interesting for us.
“There are different styles in the different counties. For example, we played Glenealy (Wicklow) in the Leinster final.
“That was interesting, and tough hurling. There wasn’t an inch to spare. That was a very different test, the likes of which we had never experienced before.”
Subsequently, St Pat’s beat Mayo champions, Tooreen in the All-Ireland semi-final, but they didn’t perform particularly well and they needed a couple of second half goals to get them through.
“We know the way we played in the semi-final would not be good enough to win the final,” the 28-year-old insisted.
“To win a final, in any competition, you need to be motoring on all cylinders. We are hoping the form will come right on the day.”
And therein lies the tough experience that has taught them a thing or two about hurling life. St Pat’s know the pain of losing finals. After they beat Piltown in the junior decider of 2011, they fully expected to drive on.
They did, to a point. They were beaten in intermediate finals in 2012 (by Clara), 2014 (by Mullinavat) and 2015 (by Bennettsbridge) after a replay. A slump followed in 2016 before they struck gold in last year’s decider against Graigue-Ballycallan (1-19 to 2-10).
Kenny said everyone in the club expected St Pat’s to motor on after winning the junior title. It didn’t happen, and he even suggested, they left their form in the dressing-room against Clara.
“At that stage I don’t think we fully realised how hard it was to win a county final,” Saoirse admitted. “After losing to Bennettsbridge we never got going the next year.”
Some serious soul searching followed. The players ‘had a right good look at ourselves and decided we would give it one more lash’. And the reward was victory over Graigue-Ballycallan.
“It is possible the squad could have drifted into being a middle of the road group if we didn’t win last year,” Saoirse suggested. “It would have been difficult to come back again.
“We had to make serious decisions, every individual, or the whole thing could have been lost on us. Everyone, right down through the panel, pledged at the start of last season to have a right go. A new management team came in and they brought a fresh approach.
“Everyone was part of the decision making process. The players pledged to give 100% and see where that would take us. We knew we were good enough if we could iron out a few things.
“Now we have the chance to win another All-Ireland. We appreciate the chance all the more because of the tough road we have travelled.”
Kanturk, he insisted, would be good - very good.
“To be going back to Croke Park with a chance of winning another All-Ireland is terrific,” insisted the man who always wears the colours with pride. “We saw what a win means for the whole community, the parish; the buzz it brings around the place. It would be nice to experience all that again.”
All-Ireland club IHC All-Ireland final - St Patrick’s (Kilkenny) v Kanturk (Cork) in Croke Park on Sunday (3.45pm).