Westside Column 2 November 2018

WESTSIDE

 

After the darkest night comes the brightest day. Boherlahan and Dualla have endured some dark hurling days in recent times but on Saturday last the sun finally shone again for the wearers of the sash.

Victory over Skeheenarinka in a county junior ‘A’ decider bridged an eighty-two year gap to the club’s last hurrah in the grade back in 1936. With victory also comes an instant return to intermediate ranks for 2019 and a general lifting of the gloom that enfolded the club when relegation struck last year.

Junior ‘A’ is arguably one of the most difficult grades to win, as others will readily testify. A glance at the roll of honour illustrates the point. Boherlahan and Sarsfields now share top spot with five titles apiece. It’s amazing that no club has managed more than five wins in a competition that dates back to 1909. The spread of winners is extraordinary with twenty-five clubs on one title each and another fifteen on just two.

For Boherlahan and Dualla (important to include the latter) it’s been the perfect response to last year’s relegation. The longer you spend in the junior grade the more you become embedded in its standard. An instant rebound was essential.

Victory in the final was hard-won if emphatic by the end of extra time. A large crowd turned up at New Inn on a day when an icy northern wind blew towards the village goal. Boherlahan had first use of the storm and they blitzed Skeheenarinka in the opening minutes, seemingly taking the South side by surprise.

An instant goal set the pattern. A smartly taken ‘65’ by Tossy Ryan found the unmarked James O’Sullivan who rattled the corner of the net from about thirty yards out. It was one of those maneuvers often mentioned in training but rarely finding scope in games.

Points followed and suddenly the board was reading 1-4 to nil. Skeheenarinka looked shell-shocked but a team of their quality was bound to find a response. And respond they did. Around midway through the half they worked a cracking goal into the teeth of the gale. It was a fine ensemble move that split open the Boherlahan defence for Adrian English to finish crisply past Joe Ryan.

After a one-sided opening it was now definitely game on. Half time arrived with the Mid champions three-up, 1-9 to 1-6, a margin that surely looked inadequate given the strength of that wind.

In hindsight the South side will reflect ruefully on their second half display when the wind was filling their sails. Darragh Hickey and the Boherlahan defence resisted stubbornly as the Southerners failed to drive forward and take advantage of the elements. Their set-up certainly surprised us at that stage.

A series of bad wides by Skeheenarinka left them needing a Tommy Sweeney point three minutes into injury time to send the game to extra time. It had been a dogged low-scoring half but Boherlahan had been through a tougher campaign and one sensed that they were better equipped for the extra twenty minutes of hurling which followed.

And so it transpired. Against the wind Boherlahan now managed a one-point lead on the turnover and then the dam pretty well burst for the Ballyporeen club. A series of points, each driving home a growing advantage, a red card for Noel Vaughan, and suddenly a hitherto tight game was leaning heavily towards the Mid champions.

In the end it was a rousing seven-up win for Boherlahan, sweet and fizzy if not intoxicating – that would come later! The victory was greeted with understandable elation by a club that had fallen on hard times in recent years and now gleefully embraced a welcome return to winning ways.

I’ve no doubt the contrasting paths of these teams to the final had a significant bearing on events last Saturday. For Boherlahan it had been a tough, grueling campaign that left them battle-hardened for the final exchanges. The Mid series had been challenging facing Sarsfields in a Friday semi-final and then Holycross in the decider less than forty-eight hours later. Fortune definitely favoured the brave in that Mid final as they stole the day with a pair of injury-time goals.

It was on then to a difficult quarter-final against Roscrea and an extra-time draw and then replay with Clonoulty in the semi-final.

By contrast the South Board did Skeheenarinka few favours with the divisional final against St. Patrick’s still outstanding. Some things just never change. Instead all they had was an easy win over Emly in the quarter-final and then an eye-catching semi-final verdict over Toomevara. That Toome’ game aside, it was undoubtedly a softer passage to the final and these things matter, especially when the decider goes to extra time.

It didn’t come easy for Boherlahan but the difficulties en route make the final destination all the sweeter. Eamon Kelly and Conor Gleeson will rightfully take huge credit for orchestrating such a turnaround in the club’s fortunes. Their vast experience and calm methodology worked the oracle with a very willing group of lads. John Manley and I will take delight in a background contribution to it all.

For the team it’s been redemption after all those dark days of endless relegation battles. Darragh Hickey was the team’s stellar performer all through the campaign, which is no surprise for those of us who watched him over the years. We remember his county minor days in ’03 and ’04, playing alongside Shane Long; his U21 involvement in ’06 and ’07; his senior part in ’07 and ’08 winning a league medal in the latter season. We remember the day he bothered Sean Og O’Hailpin in Semple Stadium and the day under ‘Babs’ when he was our best performer against Wexford at Croke Park. It truth we wonder why he didn’t enjoy a far more significant inter-county career.

The Boherlahan defence has been the bedrock of this team all season. Goalie Joe Ryan was a county minor panelist in ’02 and ’03 and had probably his best season between the sticks for Boherlahan in the present campaign. Full back Darragh Devane grew in impact with every game. Beside him Johnny Ryan is a teenager with huge talent; his display in the drawn Clonoulty game particularly was off the scale. In the other corner team captain, Johnny Maher, led by unyielding example; he now takes his place alongside captain Philly Heffernan from those teams of the thirties.

Darragh Hickey was the fulcrum of the side at number six, a move incidentally initiated by Eamon Kelly in an early-season challenge game at Clonad in County Laois. Beside him Cathal Darcy emerged as one of the brightest young stars of the team at wing back. On the other side Niall Manton had a hugely promising year cut short by the cruciate curse and eventually John O’Dwyer slotted in seamlessly to complete a really stubborn defensive shield.

Patrick O’Dwyer, another one of the talented teenagers on the side, pushed his claim for inclusion throughout the season and by the end was playing a key role at midfield beside the industrious Aidan Maher.

The attack had an invaluable target man in Lawrence Hickey at full forward; Tossy Ryan’s free taking has been critical to this win with a strike rate that would be the envy of any inter-county shooter; James O’Sullivan has hit critical goals in different games; John M. Geehan brought a hard-working energy to that attack; Fionn MacCullagh brought drive and scoring threat to the offense, his display against Clonoulty especially memorable; James Kirby too pitched in with invaluable scores. Others also played critical roles at different times such as Paul Ryan and Conor Moloughney and not forgetting Colm O’Dwyer who broke his collar bone but made an amazing comeback last Saturday when introduced.

All in all it’s been a memorable season, one I feel privileged to have been part of. Incidentally on a side issue we hear lots these days about the travails of clubs and their problems with inter-county interference. The impression is often created that the club scene is butchered. It’s become an accepted narrative, a kind of echo chamber where everyone chimes in with their tuppence worth.

Of course there are issues, especially with senior games, but there’s also fantastic club championships such as this junior grade, which gives players immense enjoyment. Boherlahan played twenty-six games so far this season including challenge matches, county league games and championship fixtures. There was an unnecessary lull in activity in mid-summer but overall I doubt if any of the players would offer a negative comment about what has been a hugely satisfying experience.

Skeheenarinka deserve more comment than there’s space available for but their role shouldn’t be ignored. Mention that club and I always think of that fine player, Eamon Maher, who was part of Tipperary panels in the nineties. Football might be the first game in Ballyporeen but they won this junior hurling as recently as 2014 and beat last year’s winners, Ballybacon, in the 2017 South decider. It’s a talented side that we worried about in advance.

We were well aware of their strengths. Conor Sweeney is well known for his football excellence but he’s quite a hurler too even if last Saturday won’t rate among his greatest memories. We were aware too of their lively corner forwards, Tomas Vaughan and Adrian English; the latter first came to my notice during the Abbey School’s Munster campaign a few years back when they came up against Mitchelstown CBS. Noel Vaughan’s threat was well noted too as well as others like Fionan O’Sullivan (excellent free taker) and John Martin who captained the winning side in 2014.

Their coach, Waterford’s Pat Bennett, had an interesting connection having spent a few years with Boherlahan. It might have brought advantage to the South side but I’m not so sure it did. They’re well capable of a comeback next season, though with the Davins now in the mix the South is getting even more competitive.

 

 

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