According to the bookies Ballygunner are 1-6 searingly hot favourites to win their fourth Munster Senior Club Hurling title when they face Ballyea in the 2022 decider at Semple Stadium on Saturday next.
The ‘hot favourites’ tag though will count for nothing if the Gunners fail to see off the Clare champions while Ballygunner manager Darragh O’Sullivan cautions against taking the Ballyea challenge for granted. “Four years ago we played Ballyea in Walsh Park and it took a last gasp goal from Philip Mahony to force the game into extra game. We came through in the end by a few points but we simply have to give this team the respect they deserve. We did give them a trimming last year in the Munster championship but I don’t think they showed up that day. They have one of the finest hurlers in the country in Tony Kelly, so we will have to be careful that we get our preparation absolutely spot on and not take anything for granted. You only have to look at the All-Ireland semi-final game against Slaughtneil to realise how unimportant the favourites tag is. They gave us a right test even though we were probably expected to win well.”
Although five points down to Na Piarsaigh at half-time in the Munster semi-final 10 days ago, O ‘Sullivan was delighted with how his team responded in the second half. “To be fair there was no sense of panic in the dressing room at half-time. We were intent on staying cool and focused. We knew there were things going wrong that we would have to fix and we did. We also knew Na Piarsaigh would put it up to us. They are a serious side and they asked serious questions of us but we had the answers in that second half and it’s probably the best half of hurling we’ve played for a while”.
The Ballygunner manager is very happy with his team’s progress through the county and Munster Championship and believes his team will be properly prepared and ready to defend their Munster crown next Saturday. “We had very good wins in the county championship and then against the Tipp champions Kilruane MacDonaghs (4-19 to 0-14) in the Munster quarter-final. We were made to work hard then against Na Piarsaigh but knowing we got the better of a very good team will stand to us ahead of this Munster final next Saturday.”
O’Sullivan believes the tremendous spirit in the camp, the attitude of his players and the wonderful blend of experience and youth will be significant once again come match time on. “The work ethic within this group is phenomenal and it has brought us to where we are. This is not about any individual or even the starting 15, this is about the entire panel, all 33 or 34 lads. All these lads work so hard, that’s the ethos and culture of the clubs and it’s all the more powerful when it comes from them. They are a tight-knit group, they’re good friends who spend a lot of time together. The young players have come through and they blend in perfectly with the more experienced lads on the panel. They have a tremendous bond and spirit and we’re delighted to see it. Win, lose or draw on Saturday next, there are really good young players coming through at Ballygunner all the time and one thing is for certain; we’re going to be around for quite a while.”
Catherine Power, The Munster Express. First for Sport