Denis Walsh isn’t inclined to get too carried away about anything. It’s a great trait for a manager to possess.
A volcano might be erupting internally if things aren’t going right on the field for his Ballygunner men, but you could never tell from his body language. You’d stand to lose a truckload of money across a poker table from this Corkonian, I suspect.
Just as the 1990 All-Ireland double winner wears the look of a man to whom looking unfazed amidst the hue and cry of Championship action, his team have taken a similar tack when facing adversity this year.
“Any time the lads have had a question asked of them this year, they’ve come up with an answer, and that’s a tremendous trait to have within a group,” said Walsh on Monday morning.
“When you consider the transition within the panel over the past year or so (losing Alan Kirwan and Wayne Hutchinson), then the way the lads dealt with Pauric (Mahony’s) injury, they’ve shown great character time and time again.
“We came through three knock-out matches in the County Championship that, I feel, could just as easily have gone against us, against Mount Sion, Fourmilewater and Tallow, the off the field setbacks on top of that (the death of Paul Foley, as well as the loss of Erin’s Own’s Adam O’Connor), and you can’t underestimate the effect those losses can have on a group, particularly the younger players in the group, but they did their best to park both and get on with their hurling, and that’s to their credit..
“And then when you consider we lost Peter Hogan at such an early stage of the Glen Rovers’ match (to injury) and then found ourselves down Philip Mahony (after his sending off), both after barely 20 minutes that day, the lads still had the wherewithal to summon up a second half performance like the one they produced in Walsh Park – sure as a manager it’d be difficult to be prouder of a group.”
And when you recap on what the Gunners’ boss listed, the manner in which Ballygunner have coped with such a litany of setbacks bodes well not only with Sunday in mind, but for the future of our inter-county set-up as well. Their resilience really has been astonishing.
So what of Peter Hogan, the Gunners’ minor skipper whose hamstring couldn’t stand up last time out?
“There’s a bit of doubt there alright, but in saying that, he’s worked very hard this past week to get himself right and you can never forget about his youth; we hope his lack of years will speed up the recovery this week. Everyone knows how talented a player Peter is and it’d be great to have him fully involved, but we’ll just see how things go this week.”
And being without the services of Philip Mahony, for me, Ballygunner’s player of the year, represents a huge blow in the face of the challenge the Limerick champions shall pose this Sunday.
“What can I say about Philip? He’s been the mainstay of the team this year and provided us with some tremendous leadership, so to not have him available is hugely disappointing. How we’ll set up without Philip is obviously something I’m not going to get into here in print or over the airwaves if I’m asked about it, but we’ll have a good think about that between now and Sunday and consider how we’re going to approach Na Piarsaigh. We know how formidable a team they are, they’ve a great tradition in this competition, but Ballygunner’s history in Munster isn’t too bad either, it’s a competition this club loves to play in, and it’d be great to keep the season going beyond Sunday afternoon. But all we can think about right now is Sunday in Thurles, and we’re not looking any further than that.”
Sunday represents the Gunners’ eighth Munster Final appearance, and one suspects they’d love to improve on a record which currently reads one win, six defeats. Denis Walsh doesn’t dwell too much on the road behind him, and he’s extolled the same message to his charges.
“Those games have come and gone; you can’t replay them on the pitch or in your head, and as I said, we can only take what’s right in front of us into account. A lot of the lads were involved in the 2011 semi-final against Na Piarsaigh, and I know it’s a match that they were in quite a decent position at half-time only for it to go against them in the second half.
“But you’ll not win anything looking backwards. There’s been a fair old personnel change within the team since then and I don’t think we’d have approached Sunday any differently if it had been (Thurles) Sars we’d have been preparing for. We want to win. They’ll want to win. We just have to hope that our best will be good enough to get us across the line on Sunday.”
As for Sunday’s opponents? “Well they’ve finished well in their last three games, in the County Final against Patrickswell, the quarter-final against Sixmilebridge and in Sunday’s semi-final against Sars, they produced a strong finish again so we know we’re going to have to be on our guard.
“But it’s up to us to give them something to think about too, and I’m very pleased with how we’ve trained since the Glen match. The mood of the lads couldn’t be better and it’d be great to clear another hurdle at this time of the year.”