Ballygunner players celebrate after the game. Ken Sutton/INPHO

'We were nearly men, people were questioning our character' - Ballygunner on top in Munster

The Waterford club have been crowned Munster senior champions for the fourth time.

THREE YEARS AGO Ballygunner were left shattered on Munster final day, falling a point short to Tipperary’s Borris-Ileigh.

It was a familiar feeling for their group, a third provincial final loss in five seasons. They interrupted that run with a breakthrough in 2018 but had not become accustomed to Munster success.

Now all that has changed. Last January they won the delayed 2021 championship, yesterday they repeated the trick to land the 2022 title.

The consistency and fortitude of the team is now unquestioned.

“I said it in the Ballyea dressing room there that we have had a lot of bad days in Munster finals and that has probably made us what we are,” reflected manager Darragh O’Sullivan afterwards.

“It has hardened us and hardened us and hardened us and we have learned from every single one of those defeats and we got stronger because of it. And I know they’ll do that as well. You’ll never have believed it going back a few years ago. We were nearly men, people were questioning our character. We’ve proven now that we’re up there with the very best of them.

“If we got turned over here today, it certainly would have been a momentum changer for us whereas now we have another Munster title. We had a very tough day against Borris-Ileigh a few years ago and if we won that we would have won the last three but we didn’t, they were better than us on the day. That’s where it is and sport is about getting over the line and we got over the line today and we had to dig very deep today. We won by nine in the end but it was a titanic struggle for a lot of the game.

“Mícheál Ó Domhnaill said it to me a few weeks back about how long it’s been since back-to-back Munster Championships were put together (23 years).. To do that with our group for Ballygunner is a massive achievement and I’m so proud of everyone: the team, the backroom staff who work with me, the club, the whole shooting gallery. We’re in a privileged position with fabulous guys with us. Thank God we got over the line there today.”

Ballygunner faced a challenge early on in coming to terms with the threat that Tony Kelly posed.

“He caused us problems. We did change some things from a tactical point of view. Not one player is ever going to manage Tony Kelly; Tony Kelly is one of the greatest players that I have ever seen. It’s a team thing and that’s where we were getting better in the second half. The area where he was getting a bit of space in the first half he was being closed out in the second and cluttered up. What a hurler.”

Ballyea boss Robbie Hogan paid tribute to the newly-crowned champions.

“They can hit you on the counter attack and go from three points to six points and six to nine. It was a tough finish. We clawed it back early in the second half but they’re a quality team and give them a sniff of it and they’ll go for the jugular.

“They’ve huge strength and massive impact off the bench and they’re practically an inter-county team and fair play to them, you have to tip your hat to them, they’re a fine side.

“We’ll get time now to absorb the back-to-back and getting to a Munster final but we didn’t come here to be competitive, we came here to win. I have to compliment all the lads, all the effort they gave last year and all the effort they gave this year. They’re proper gentlemen and a huge amount of credit should go to them for what they did today, this year and last year.”

Ballygunner’s attention now turns to an All-Ireland semi-final that O’Sullivan is hopeful will be played in Thurles on the weekend of 17-18 December.

“We need to play these matches on the best surfaces they can get and the best grounds that they can get. There is no point bringing this to a surface that is not right. Like, these guys have trained for the full year for the best surfaces and I think that has to be a huge part of this to let these guys go out and have a cut at each other at the best facilities available.

“Thurles would probably be the obvious place. If they’re saying it’s out, it’s out. It’s only in two weeks’ time. Surely, they can defer that a little bit. That would make sense, wouldn’t it? Surely to God, we can swing that or the GAA say, ‘You have Leinster and Munster coming together and Thurles is the perfect venue, the perfect sod’.

“Sure, that makes absolute sense.”

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