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Victorious manager Robbie Hogan of Ballyea salutes the fans following their Munster Club semi-final win over St Finbarr's at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly

Ballyea boss – past is in your head, future is in your hands

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It’s unusual to be beginning a Munster Senior Club Final preview on such a sombre note but Ballyea Manager Robbie Hogan is more than willing to go down the cathartic route of embracing last year’s nadir.

Indeed, after winning what could be argued as their greatest county title, 17 points subsequently separated Ballygunner and the Clare champions in their quarter-final bout in Cusack Park almost twelve months to the day.

“It’s a long time since we took a beating like that,” admitted Hogan in the safe confines of the Ballyea GAA Club dressing rooms.

“I’d say Cuala were the last side to give us a trimming and they were back-to-back All-Ireland champions. Signs on Ballygunner ended up being All-Ireland champions last year but regardless it still doesn’t make up for the size of the defeat.

“If you look across their results, they scored 3-20 against us and put up the exact same score against Kilmallock in the Munster Final and again this year, with 4-19 against Kilruane MacDonaghs and 2-20 against Na Piarsaigh. So it definitely isn’t just us, they’re a high-scoring team and when they smell blood they go for it.”

Having brought the perennial Waterford champions to extra-extra-time only three years previously in Walsh Park, it was a sobering defeat in so many ways but there were mitigating factors of course.

“The numbers Ballygunner have at their disposal is far beyond what a lot of clubs in the province can match. I mean they seem to be able to introduce a few new players every year.

“For example Patrick Fitzgerald is keeping Billy O’Keeffe, who was on last year’s national club team of the year, off the team at present in only his first season. So that ability to re-energise their squad all the time is amazing and really shows the strength and depth they have.

“I think they’re cleaning up across the board at underage so they’re a well-oiled machine with a constant conveyor belt coming through so they’re not going to go away anytime soon.

“Meanwhile everyone is vital to our cause, especially at that stage of the competition and unfortunately we didn’t have everyone at our disposal last year.

“In the run in into that game, Tony [Kelly] was out injured, Morgan Garry also had an operation on his shoulder that week as well and COVID was running riot at that time around the place as well so we had a few lads sick between the county final and that Ballygunner match.

“So we were kind of maxed out to try and win the county championship and Ballygunner came off an eight week break, a team that had won eight Waterford titles in a row and were well used to managing that big gap.

“Even talking to their manager afterwards, with injuries etc, they were only at 70% for their county campaign but had all their injuries cleared up coming up to Ennis and they were therefore a team on a mission inside in the Park that day.”

It’s now Ballyea’s turn to ramp up their mission machine, with last year’s sizeable reverse seen as the ideal motivational tool to ensure that Hogan’s side can up their performance levels.

“What we did in the county final and against St Finbarr’s is not going to do against Ballygunner. We’re going to have to go up a huge percentage to go out and compete with these boys.

“However, we’re not going into the unknown, we know exactly the arsenal they have and if we don’t meet this face on, then we’ll be in trouble.

“The bottom line is that take all the frills away from Saturday’s final and it’s just another game really. So our focus is just on performing as we know what’s coming down the line because it’s still fresh in our minds from last year. In some ways, we’re lucky because sometimes you’d have to wait up to 15 years to get that chance to put something right.

“Really, it’s no different than this year’s group stages when we lost to Cratloe as we only had to wait a month to go out and right that wrong.

“So this is our opportunity to go out and redeem some of our pride and some of what we stand for. We didn’t do that last year but the past is in your head and the future is in your hands so we just need to drive on now.”

An apt philosophical analogy to try and fully exorcise the ghosts of Ballygunner past and forge a new chapter in Ballyea’s development.

“When we won the Munster in ’16, there was an unbelievable atmosphere and real enjoyment but it isn’t until something is taken away from you that you have a real appreciation of it.

“In the intervening years, seeing Borrisoleigh, Na Piarsaigh and Ballygunner winning it, it gives you a far better appreciation of it the second time around when you can’t get your hands on it.

“So while 2016 was great and it was new and novel, we know now how hard it is to get your hands back on that cup. We just need to see can we raise our game enough to achieve that now.”

About Eoin Brennan

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