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'Today’s a dream. I’ve lost a good few Munster finals, to win it again it is a special feeling'

Philip Mahony on Ballygunner’s latest Munster title success.

Ballygunner players celebrate Sunday's win.
Ballygunner players celebrate Sunday's win.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FOR PHILIP MAHONY, Sunday was a landmark day.

A Munster title win to savour, an All-Ireland club series date to eagerly anticipate and a birthday to celebrate.

“I’m 31 now, pushing on, I said I’d never forgot my birthday if I lost today,” remarked the experienced defender after Ballygunner’s success.

“You get uneasy in the build-up to a game but then you see how committed the lads have been for the last two years. We didn’t get a chance the previous year but we never doubted ourselves, we always backed ourselves. We left every single bit out on the field.

“Relief as well. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and the build-up was tough over Christmas, it drags on and that. 

“Today’s a dream. I’ve lost a good few Munster finals, to win it again it is a special feeling.”

Mahony has endured enough hard days at the hurling office in Waterford colours and on the club front with Ballygunner.

The breakthrough for this group in the 2018 Munster final was momentous but they have been locked in a cycle of defeats. Mahony has memories of losses in four provincial deciders, stretching back to 2009 when he was a teenager, still standing since that game along with his brother Pauric, goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe and veteran defender Shane O’Sullivan.

“It was huge, 2018. We put so much effort into it but so do a load of other clubs. We have been knocked coming home out of Munster finals. In 2009, my second year, we lost to Newtownshandrum and over the years people said we couldn’t do it in Munster.

“People said the winter didn’t suit us but I think we’re after proving…we didn’t buy into that ourselves. For this team to win it back again is just special.

“We always prided ourselves on winning the Waterford championship. That was one good thing we have going for us. We never take things for granted or look past the next game. We genuinely don’t. We’ll enjoy tonight and obviously look forward to Slaughtneil in two weeks.”

The contrast between the setting for Ballygunner’s last Munster final outing in Cork and Sunday’s showdown, could not have been starker. In November 2019 their challenge got swamped in a mudbath in Páirc Uí Rinn but the better quality surface in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was to their liking as they ripped Kilmallock apart.

“The minute you came out on the field…one of the lads on the WhatsApp group put up a photo of the pitch there earlier and it was pristine, in fairness,” said Mahony.

“There is not much grass on it but the ball was bouncing, it was more a summery surface than late January and it probably suited the lads up front especially. We worked so hard in the first 15 minutes and we emptied ourselves. They got the first two scores but we believed more than ever that we were going to win today and I think that showed in our performance.”

Philip and Pauric spearheaded the input of the Mahony clan for the 2018 success, for this latest occasion they were joined in this starting side by younger brothers Mikey and Kevin.

dessie-hutchinson-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Dessie Hutchinson celebrates at the final whistle of Ballygunner's win over Kilmallock. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The glaring difference between Ballygunner 2022 and the version of four years ago is the presence of Dessie Hutchinson.

He infuses the team with an attacking electricity, posting 1-5 in a stunning scoring showing on Sunday.

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“We lost Brian O’Sullivan in 2018 and Dessie then stood up,” says Mahony.

“But to be honest it’s not just Dessie’s hurling. I know it’s obviously a massive asset but the character he is in the dressing room. To come in and do what he’s after doing is just crazy, really.

“It’s more his personality around the group and the young lads in particular. Some of my younger brothers hang around him and you see there has been a marked improvement and a lot of that is to do with the likes of Dessie.

“I remember sitting on the Tuesday after 2018 with Dessie and he was just after coming back and to lose in 2019 with him playing was tough.

“The outlook he has on life is brilliant. It’s special. To see everybody from Ballygunner under the lights here in Cork is brilliant. What a venue here and to do it here today is unbelievable.”

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