Colin Fennelly of Ballyhale Shamrocks, left, is pictured alongside Wayne Hutchinson of Ballygunner ahead of Saturday’s AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Club Championship Semi-Final in Thurles. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile.
When the teams run onto the Semple Stadium turf on Saturday evening, next, one man who will know how big this is for Ballygunner, more than most, will be one of their longest serving members, Wayne Hutchinson.
So was relief the greatest emotion for him after their Munster Club Final win over Na Piarsaigh?
“Yeah, I suppose we’ve been trying, the last time we won it was in 2001 and we’ve been in a lot of finals since that. To eventually get over the line in Munster was a fantastic feeling because we were after being beaten in a lot of finals in the 2000s. So it was nice to get over the line, but at the end of the day it’s history and we must move on. It’s for the history books more than anything.
So how did those tough final losses weigh on you and the rest of the club? “Yeah, there’s no question that at the time when those defeats do come around, of course, it’s very tough – because you put in so much effort as an individual and as a group too reach that stage. Then not to get over the line is pretty tough, but I think a lot of the time you learn more from your defeats, and the persistence and the determination to get back there is what drives lads. It’s great motivation to try and get back there, learn from the defeat and move forward.”
THE BALLYHALE CHALLENGE
Wayne knows the task that awaits them on Saturday, but he’s pretty sure it’s going to be a good game. “It’s going to be a great game, they are two good hurling teams, there won’t be much tactics or stuff involved, really even though, it’s Kilkenny/Waterford, the two clubs on a commutal difference there’s probably only 30 minutes between us.
“There’s only a bridge in Waterford separating us really. It’s somewhat of a local derby so it’s absolutely fantastic for the two clubs to be meeting at this stage. Obviously, Ballyhale, they are after being there, they’ve done it before, so they are probably going in with the favourites tag. They have some great hurlers all over the pitch, we’re going to find it really, really difficult to break them down, there’s no question.”
A TOUGH ROAD TO THURLES
While their path to their fifth News & Star Cup in a row might have been fairly straight forward, their Munster trail was anything but.
“Yeah, we have had a tough campaign. But to be fair, any team that has reached this level, all teams have had a tough Road. But particularly in Munster, I suppose there has been some titanic battles, not even this year but down through the last number of years. Look at the games we’ve had with the likes of Cratloe, Thurles Sarsfields, we’ve had some cracking games with them.
“Then the Ballyea game this year, it was only a goal by Philip Mahony who came up from centre-back that forced extra time for us. But any of the two teams there could have won that game, it was probably the best club game of the calendar year.
“Yeah we’ve had a tough road, but that was back in October/November. We’re now into February 2019, so if you start to look back on those months in the past, the form really does go out the window because there are lads that haven’t played a competitive game in a good two and a half months, so that makes a massive difference. So if you’ve been playing really well in November, it doesn’t necessarily carry over into the new year.”
A NEW EXPERIENCE
This is the first time since 2002 that Ballygunner have been out in championship action in the month of February, so how have Wayne and his team-mates found it? “Yeah absolutely, the last time we would have played as a club at this time of year would have been in 2002. So, it’s 17 years since we’ve been in this position, but again whatever happens, it’s a new group of players, a new management team. There’s no real identicals you can take from the 2001/02 set-up to this set-up, so for us it is completely new territory, whereas Ballyhale, they’ve been here and done it, they know how to get ready for going into these games. It has been tough, but we’ve tried to manage it to the best of our ability,” concluded Wayne Hutchinson, who will be hoping that their 2018/19 season has another six weeks or so in it.