Déise challengers bid to end Na Piarsaigh’s Munster Club Championship dominance
“I’m not saying that an individual shouldn’t spend any time reflecting on failure. It’s obviously important to learn from mistakes. But there’s a difference between learning from failure and wallowing in it.” – Dr Bob Rotella (How Champions Think)
Shane O’Sullivan was 14 years of age when he took his place on a bus of Ballygunner supporters to see their senior charges take on Sarsfields of Cork in the 2001 Munster Club Final at Semple Stadium. “It’s a fond memory for me and for my generation,” the Gunners co-captain told The Munster Express as the countdown to next Sunday’s provincial showpiece in Thurles cranked up a few gears. “We went up into the back of stand in Thurles and sang and chanted ‘Ballygunner’ from one end of the game to the other – we’d a bodhrán with us too and we really relished the opportunity, looking down on the players we aspired to be.”
From 1 to 15, that team reads: Whitty; Donnell, Kirwan, R O’Sullivan; Frampton, Hartley, Kehoe; Fives, Power; Mahony, Flynn, Moloney; B O’Sullivan, Foley, with playing support on the day from Carroll. And how they seized their moment on the first Sunday of December. Alas, from a Gunners perspective, alone they still stand.
“That Ballygunner team really did signal a breakthrough for Waterford hurling in general,” said O’Sullivan, a high-performance coach and self-confessed sports psychology anorak.
“The following summer, Waterford won their first Munster Senior Championship since 1963 and they were two huge occasions for me as a supporter, and it signalled the start of better times for Waterford at both club and inter-county level. And I’ve really fond memories of that time.” As for the notion that Ballygunner’s solitary Munster success has become an albatross around the neck of the current generation, Shane O’Sullivan doesn’t view it in those terms. “Personally, I’ve no hang ups about the fact that ’01 is still a single success on our roll of honour – that was an excellent Ballygunner team 17 years ago, but it’s a different ball game now.”
Commendably, the Gunners co-skipper admitted: “I think this team will win a Munster title, maybe it won’t necessarily be next Sunday, but I feel we’ll get there someday, and if we don’t, to be honest, we’ll have underachieved. I know that might put pressure on players but I feel that’s just the stark reality of the situation.”
He added: “I know we’ve come up against good teams; Ballyea have competed in an All-Ireland Club Final and Na Piarsaigh have won one and are still unbeaten in Munster, but I feel that this Ballygunner team is, for want of another way of describing it, better than ‘just’ County Final success, and that’s not to underestimate the significance of winning your own Senior Championship whatsoever. But I just feel that we can go one step more, that it’s something we’re capable of realising and if we don’t win another Munster Championship, then yeah, we will have underachieved.”
Ballygunner, as I stated in my contribution to the Munster Semi-Final programme, are undoubtedly one of the best club teams in the country, and have been for several years, without taking that next step: winning Munster titles and earning a Croke Park berth come March 17th. Records are there to be broken. Take down Na Piarsaigh on Sunday and not only will a long-awaited second Munster trophy sit on the McGinn Park sideboard, but the scent of All-Ireland Day will be undeniably strong in Déise nostrils. An underwhelming Waterford hurling year may yet be bookended by some overdue history making. It’s time for new provincial heroes in black and red. Beir Bua, Baile Mhic Gonair!