AT this time of year, Robbie Hogan would normally be spending his Sunday afternoons at home watching the club games on TV and aspiring that some day Ballyea would be in that position. Well, now they are.
“In fairness, while it’s a bit surreal, it’s all happening so fast the last few weeks. You win something and there is another challenge put in front of you straight away. I have to be honest and say that preparing for a Munster final as the end of November approaches wasn’t on my mind when we set out at the start of the year.”
How did he find himself in the position of senior team manager with Ballyea?
“I got a call from Michael Keane [club chairman at the time] five years ago. Tom Ryan was coming from Limerick at the time and Michael said it’s a great opportunity to see how these fellas work. Tom came and went and myself and Reggie [Raymond O’Connor] found ourselves in charge of the team.
We did the training, we did everything, we were really thrown in at the deep end. The following year Pat O’Rourke [Wolfe Tones] got involved. It progressed and different fellas came and as the years went on, we got a bit more experience, we taught ourselves. It’s like people did for us when we were young in the club. We are here now and we are trying to do our bit and help out,” he explained.
Hogan said, “Training was frustrating at times over the years. There were so many missing because of involvement with county teams. It was really hammered home this year with the success of both the footballers and hurlers in the league. This is the first year we have had that bit of togetherness. Over the last couple of months, fellas became more familiar with each other. There is a better bond between the group and that togetherness and being together has been a big help. It has made a huge difference. It’s not that we are doing any more training but fellas have a bit more time in between to get a bit of recovery. It helps that you can train as a unit and have a bit of time off in between.”
The Ballyea boss said, “People who have come to live in the area have bought into the club and we have great numbers at underage. Someone mentioned that the year we won a Junior B, Glen Rovers won an All-Ireland club. We’d like to think we are progressing and we’d like to think we are on a level par now. It’s great. People are involved and everyone giving time to the club. We are only small cogs in a big wheel and everybody has their job to do, whether it’s at underage or at senior. It’s great to be involved with the club at the minute.”
Like his fellow backroom team members, Hogan is satisfied that the panel has strengthened this year.
“When you are naming the 15 before a match and you look around the dressing room, there are always lads whose heads are down and disappointed at not getting in the starting line-up. We stress to them that any fella at any given time can be used and that was highlighted against Thurles when two lads went on early. Everybody wants to start but sometimes the bench is just as important and it will be the same the next day. Fellas that weren’t used the last day may well be used the next day. It’s a panel effort and everybody has a job to do.”
While Rovers have been in Munster deciders in the past, competing in Sunday’s final is new territory for these Glen Rovers players, just as it is for Ballyea.
“They are there on merit and I have yet to see a bad team come out of Cork but you can’t disregard the history either. They have been there, the club can boast All-Irelands. We haven’t that luxury and tradition is a big thing.”
However, Hogan said there is no pressure on Ballyea.
“There is plenty talk and excitement about the week ahead. Pressure will come to these fellas in different ways in life and we certainly won’t be putting any pressure on them. All we demand is that they go out and perform and that they will be happy the next day with their performance. That’s the main thing.
“It’s unavoidable at the minute and there will be nerves but there are enough leaders on the team, including joint captain of the county hurling team and the captain of the county football team and they reassure the lads. They are father figures in a way, even though they are young men. They have played in this arena and they have a way of calming the fellas around them. I don’t think nerves will play a huge part. There will be a certain amount and you won’t perform to your best unless there are a certain amount, as it gets the adrenaline going. We will re-assure the lads before the game, go out and embrace the game and enjoy it.”
The fact that Ballyea are Clare senior hurling champions hasn’t really sunk in.
“We had to earn it in a replay and the following week was dominated by the Munster club. Every time we win, there is another obstacle in front of us.
“We are delighted to be in that position. There are 15 other clubs in Clare that would love that problem. We are hoping it will change the view people have of the club.”
Hogan is full of praise for the support the club has received.
“Support is huge, whether in sport or life, and the more you can get the better. When Gary got the goal at the end, it just erupted behind us; the noise. It’s fantastic to have that level of support and the goodwill of people from other clubs.
“At the end of the day, we are not just representing Ballyea, we are representing the county and hopefully we can spark off something great for Clare heading into next year. Every bit of support is vital and I don’t know if people can estimate its value. Sometimes a person can go down and it’s the crowd that will lift him back up again. The adrenaline rush the crowd gave us the last day really lifted us.”
Asked if he had any worries about playing in Thurles he replied, “Thurles is the field of dreams. I remember playing there in an U-16 final, Mid Clare v East Clare. It’s the stage that everyone want to play on. Regardless of the outcome, we will come out very proud of being there and getting there.”
By sports editor Seamus Hayes