Clonmel hurling club St. Mary's one game away from returning to senior status

Clonmel hurling club St. Mary's one game away from returning to senior status

All Ireland medal winner Seamus Kennedy will be a key player for St. Mary's against Gortnahoe-Glengoole.

St. Mary's are one game away from returning to senior status when they take on Gortnahoe-Glengoole in the County intermediate hurling championship final  at Golden at 4pm on Saturday.

It's a massive game for the Clonmel club and the anticipation in the club is palpable.

Says manager and former Watrford boss Michael Ryan - "Everybody who is involved in the sport wants to be involved on county final day. When you start training in January and February in the muck and everything is geared towards later on in the year. Nobody wants to be involved in that, but that is necessary to get us to where we are. 

"And now we are here and when you get that opportunity you have got to take that opportunity. But we do realise that we have a hell of a battle on our hands.

"We felt last year that we were too fit too early in the year. This year we put a greater emphasis on being fresh and we took a good few Sundays off,”. 

 

“The plan was to be here at this stage. Sometimes that doesn't work out, but it has worked so far for us. I suppose that when results go your way everything you did looks right.”.

St Mary’s are coming like a train. The club collected county minor A hurling titles in 2015 and 2016 and also won the 2016 South under-21A title for the first time in twenty-eight years. St Mary’s are closing in on a tipping point and they know it. 

Indeed, the next logical step is to earn promotion to senior and drive the project forward from there.

"It would be massive for us to get up senior,” St Mary’s club chairman Kevin Leahy explained. 

“No matter what good players you have and what good players you have coming if you get an opportunity you have to try and take it. 

“We know that Gortnahoe are a very strong team - they have knocked out the likes of Ballinahinch and we are under no allusions. We are nowhere yet, but we really feel that if we could get senior we could create something fantastic,"  Leahy added.

Gortnahoe-Glengoole, of course, are nourished by dreams of their own. Gortnahoe won the county intermediate title once before (1988) and suffered defeats in the decider most recently in 2010 and 2011 - in 2010 the Mid Tipperary club lost out to Borrisokane when Philip Austin scored a spectacular goal while a year later against Aherlow, Gortnahoe were in control before a Steve Chapman strike wrestled the initiative and the final out of their hands. 

And, worse was to follow - a wave of player emigrations committed Gortnahoe to a re-building project whether the club liked it or not. 

To their credit Gortnahoe-Glengoole came out fighting, but they needed a little encouragement and found it in 2016 when the club’s under-21 hurlers roared to a county title.

"The big catalyst last year was the under-21s winning the county and playing really, really well,” Gortnahoe-Glengoole secretary William Coleman explained.

“Eight of those guys, more or less, are starting on the intermediate team now. We have an average age of about twenty-three (in the team). All of those younger guys have won right up through the underage grades - they have all come through together and that was a big boost to us. 

“The minors did well as well last year so there has been a bit of talent there. It is kind of new batch there now that will, hopefully, stay together for a good few years,” William Coleman added.

St Mary’s lost to Moyne-Templetuohy before beating Boherlahan-Dualla in the group stage of the county championship. In the South, St Mary’s accounted for Kilsheelan-Kilcash with twenty-one points to spare before handling Carrick Davins to the tune of twelve points in their divisional final. 

In the county preliminary quarter-finals Moyle Rovers were seen off (4-13 to 0-9) before Clonmel beat Kilsheelan-Kilcash once more in the last eight. 

Then, in the semi-finals, St Mary’s avenged a single-point defeat to Moyne when seeing off the Mid Tipperary men 1-20 to 0-14. This performance was especially impressive and one which warmed the heart of manager Michael Ryan.

"We did play very well and we played some good hurling. A lot of it has to do with the attitude of the players and the mind-set that you have. Our lads went into the game in a good frame of mind and they used the ball well. 

“They deserved the victory, but we earned it - it was a good test," the former Waterford manager explained.

And, the relief associated with winning the county semi-final against Moyne Templetuohy struck a chord with St Mary’s Clonmel player Gearóid Buckley.

"We feel like we have been knocking on the door for the last few years, definitely. I have been around for the last eight years and I have played in only two county semis. I always felt that we were good enough to get there, but we just could not take that final step. Thankfully we got over the line against Moyne-Templetuohy)," Buckley said.