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40 in a row for Ballymac dynasty - 'Every single one means as much as the other'

Captain Lauren Fitzpatrick reflects on a milestone victory for the Waterford kingpins with The42.

A LOW-KEY NIGHT followed a monumental day.

After lifting a simply remarkable 40th consecutive senior county title, the Ballymacarbry ladies football team opted for modest celebrations in the local.

ballymac Ballymacarbry players, past and present, celebrating their 40th county final title. Source: Ballymacarbry LGFA.

Together with management and a handful of former players, they gathered for food and a few quiet drinks, conscious of the fact that the vast majority involved had to work today.

Captain and goalkeeper Lauren Fitzpatrick was one of such, willing to take a call on her lunch break from her sales and production job, with the teaching profession also well represented amongst Waterford’s undisputed champions.

“We stayed together, we all were chatting about the game and it was actually just a very nice, low-key [evening] and not as mental as you would be thinking,” she told The42.

“But we do hope to plan a night out in the next couple of weeks and hopefully celebrate it like it should be celebrated.”

A start was made on the field anyway, as the 40 in a row was completed in Dungarvan yesterday following a 4-5 to 0-7 victory over neighbours and regular opposition, Comeragh Rangers. 

Fitzpatrick plays her inter-county football with Tipperary and lives on that side of the border with her parish, Newcastle, split in two; Ballymac was the only ladies football team when she was growing up.

“To be honest, I don’t think it has really sunk in, as of now even, nearly 24 hours on,” she began.
“It was indescribable, it was fantastic. On the final whistle, you could tell from the supporters’, the players’, the management’s reaction, it was just a fantastic day for the club.”

And later, on a truly special occasion for herself and her family as she etched her name into the history books as the captain to lift the 40th, she added:

“Genuinely, it was a very emotional day. Like I said, it hasn’t hit me yet. I do think it’ll probably take another while, but honestly, it’s an honour and a privilege for me to lift the cup on behalf of Ballymac ladies football. They’re a fantastic team and every day I get to go training with them, it’s just a privilege.

“My job is very easy. All I had to do yesterday was lift that cup. Every single person from one to 28 on that team are leaders. There’s no one single voice that stands out or anything like that. So for me, just the lift to cup on behalf of the group of players was an absolute honour.”

While the scoreline suggests a one-sided contest, Fitzpatrick stresses that it was the furthest thing from that, with Ballymac a point down at half time — “and probably deservingly so” — and Comeragh “the much better team” at that point, in her opinion.

“The first half now was touch and go,” she recalls. “They threw everything at us. We took half time to kind of settle and relax a bit. I felt we were a bit uneasy on the ball. But in the second half, I think we relaxed a lot more, we showed our skill and the game just kind of opened up for us.”

Hailing her “immense” defence, which made her day a lot easier, and sharing her pride in each and every one of her team-mates, Fitzpatrick reserved special praise for two in particular.

For former Waterford star Michelle Ryan, who hit 2-2 en route to landing her 22nd successive medal, and for current Déise captain Karen McGrath, who was electric with 1-2 in a Player of the Match display from half-back.

“There’s not much more to be said about Michelle Ryan. She’s just top class and she’ll never let you down. She’s always a fantastic player, whatever the occasion. Whether it’s the first round of championship or the county final on Sunday, she’s just brilliant and she’s a fantastic leader. When she speaks, it speaks volumes. Everyone in the huddle listens and and they take exactly what she says on board. She’s always the calming voice in the crowd.

“Karen yesterday, she was fantastic. She had numerous knocks, she was down, she hurt her shoulder. In the second half, she had a right bad injury where she fell and looked like she hit her head and I kind of thought to myself, ‘She’s gone.’ But no, she kept going and actually got the goal maybe five minutes later. To be honest, she was definitely the Player of the Match yesterday in my opinion.”

michell Michelle Ryan with her father, Michael. Source: SPORTSFILE.

Ryan — whose father Michael is a lifetime member of the management team, with John Phelan, Mike Guirey, and her sister and former player, Sinead, also on board this year — has spoken quite a lot about the Ballymac dynasty in the past.

“These things aren’t taken for granted,” as she told The42 after title number 38 two years ago, echoing her earlier tweet: “Numbers don’t matter, it still means just as much.”

And 25-year-old Fitzpatrick shares that same sentiment with a smile.

“100%. And I do think people probably think we’re not telling the truth there, but I can honestly say this week and coming up to the game, it was never mentioned, not by one player, not by management, not by anybody.

Every single county final in that club means as much as the other. It is fantastic that it is 40 in a row but whether it be the first or the 10th, it was still very important to every single person on that team. Look, it is a fantastic achievement, but we take every single one of them as they come and we just go out and try win. It’s like any other game.”

Likewise, she’s seen the reaction — good, bad, and indifferent — and offers a few words on Ballymac’s unparalleled Déise dominance, putting the record straight on the well-worn argument on the lack of competition or challenge.

“You have positive and negative comments about the 40 in a row. But every year, we’re put to the test by Comeragh Rangers, and that’s testament them as a team to continue to come back every year and I have huge respect for them for it.

“There is a huge battle there, that game was tight up until maybe the last 20 minutes, where we just seemed to open up. But every year… last year, they had been beaten in the semi-final, which probably wasn’t expected, but the year before, they were beating us by six points at half-time and we needed to come back.

“The competition is there for us, in fairness. And the girls, every year we go back training and they’re more determined and eager than ever. It’s fantastic, and the work that they put in is just brilliant.”

As per her speech yesterday, Fitzpatrick is now willing her side to “drive on” in Munster, where the last of their 14 provincial crowns came in 2000. 

With 10 All-Ireland crowns to their name also (all won between 1987 and 1998, though they haven’t returned to a final since), they’ve fallen short in several Munster finals over the past few years, most recently to Cork powerhouse Mourneabbey.

They’ll return to training on Wednesday night, with their next opponents yet to be determined, though it’s looking like they’ll face the winners of the Leeside and Clare champions in three weeks’ time.

“We really relish the county finals and we appreciate every single one of them but as a group of players, we have decided that we really do want to push on this year,” Fitzpatrick concluded.

“In my opinion, there’s fantastic potential in our group, but obviously you’re coming up against the likes of the Mourneabbeys, and we haven’t succeeded with them in the past.

“It’s something we would like to do — obviously, a Munster final would be would be the cream of the crop. At the end of the day, look, we’re just going to take each game as it comes. We’re going to put the heads down from Wednesday on and really work hard.” 

BTL 5

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Emma Duffy

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