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Ballyea captain Jack Browne is looking forward to leading his team out against Inagh-Kilnamona for his third senior hurling final in six years. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

Final experience no substitute for leadership

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From the outside looking in, Ballyea have the experience while Inagh-Kilnamona have the momentum ahead of Sunday’s novel showdown for the Canon Hamilton Cup in Cusack Park. Having been down this road twice before and managed to prevail on both occasions, Ballyea’s senior triumphs in 2016 and ’18 will still be fresh in the memory while the heightened county final build-up, occasion and understandable nerves will be a completely new experience to an Inagh-Kilnamona side competing in their first senior decider.
There is one obvious flaw in that theory however as Ballyea’s Jack Browne quickly pointed out.
“We happened to win the first county final we were in too so there is no secret formula. Look, you’d hope that having played in finals before that it helps but there’s no guarantees.
“Take us for example, it’s fair to say that every year you play in championship, you don’t want to lose any game and we’d love to be in a county final every year. But that’s not realistic and we’re fortunate enough to have won two and this year again we get the chance to have another go at it.
“Considering the journey that we’ve had in the last decade, it’s actually a funny thing to say that Ballyea are the more experienced team going into a county final.
“Look, Inagh-Kilnamona are a relatively new club so they’re not going to have that history behind them but in the last couple of years, they’ve been absolutely hammering on the door. It’s only a matter of time really before they make the breakthrough, I just hope it’s not against us.”
Browne is better equipped than most to evaluate Inagh-Kilnamona’s continuous conveyor belt of talent in recent years due to his teaching role as well as his involvement with the school squads at St Flannan’s College.
“Inagh-Kilnamona are definitely the form team throughout the championship and the one that everyone has been watching. It’s more than just this team though, I can see every new year group in Flannan’s, there are always seven or eight Inagh-Kilnamona lads that are going to be nailed on starters for the team so whatever they’re doing at underage in the club is working and it’s starting to pay massive dividends at senior level.”
Another fly in the Ballyea ointment is the absence of local alchemist Tony Kelly, something which is all new to the side at championship level according to his club, county and work colleague Browne.
“You couldn’t measure how much of a loss Tony [Kelly] is, it’s massive to the team but if there was a silver lining, it’s that we have known for a while that we wouldn’t have him and we’ve just had to plan without him. I mean it’s not like he got injured in the semi-final and at the last minute didn’t make it back for the final so we’ve had time to adjust and it’s up to others now to stand up and be counted.
“There are a few great leaders there that when needed most stand up and make a real impact. In different days, it can be different people. The last day it was Gary [Brennan], before that [Niall] Deasy, there’s always someone that steps up.
“The games have been so close that we’ve needed that leadership and I think the fact that we’ve made it through to the final is a testament to the character of the boys.
“There was three one point wins and a draw against Cratloe so it definitely hasn’t been plain sailing and you’d hope that that kind of battle-hardened spirit might help us again when it comes to the final.”

by Eoin Brennan

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