St. Mullins and Carlow hurler Marty Kavanagh ahead of the AIB Leinster senior hurling club championship final. Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE
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'It doesn’t really bother us if we don’t get respect, but we know who we’re coming up against'

Marty Kavanagh and St Mullins face All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks in the Leinster hurling final on Sunday.

AS A YOUNGSTER, Marty Kavanagh spent a good deal of time watching Kilkenny play.

The St Mullins parish in south Carlow is sandwiched in between Kilkenny and Wexford. Carlow hurling wasn’t anywhere near as prominent as it is these days and Kavanagh, along with his father and uncles, were keen supporters of the Cats.

These days, 24-year-old is a key figure in the St Mullins side that are bidding to become only the second Carlow outfit in history – after Mount Leinster Rangers – to lift the provincial club hurling crown.

Sunday’s showdown with the reigning Kilkenny, Leinster and All-Ireland champions will bring Kavanagh up against his boyhood hero, Ballyhale Shamrocks boss Henry Shefflin.

“I suppose Henry Shefflin would have been a lad I would have looked up to, definitely,” he says.

“All I used to do in my childhood was go to Kilkenny matches, with my uncles and my father. It was just a thing we did. We live close to the border.

“At that time Carlow hurling wasn’t as big as it is now. We kind of went to watch All-Irelands and at that time would have supported Kilkenny.

“So again look it’s brilliant to go up against these lads. We would have played against Kilkenny this year in championship, but that’s about it. So we’re really looking forward to coming up against the best.”

henry-shefflin Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Red-hot favourites Ballyhale are bidding to land their 10th provincial title, while St Mullins come into the game as major underdogs despite taking the scalp of two-time All-Ireland winners Cuala in the quarter-final. 

“Every game we go out there, we believe we can win no matter who we’re playing,” he says of the Cuala game.

“Obviously, they were favourites for the All-Ireland along with Ballyhale. But we played them in 2016 as well, we knew a bit about them.

“It was a matter of being in that game in the second half, and we knew we had a bit of experience, and we could overturn them and thankfully we did.

“All we can do is try and win matches, and we’ve done that. St Mullins is a proud club. It’s a well-known club around Ireland. It’s 100 years old and that. It doesn’t really bother us if we don’t get respect. But we know who we’re coming up against.

“We’re coming up against the best team in Ireland. These are the games you want to be playing in. So we’re relishing it.” 

They enjoyed a thrilling late win over Laois champions Rathdowney-Errill in the last four as forward James Doyle chipped in with two inspirational scores at the death to seal their progression.

“James is a serious talent,” says Kavanagh of his club and county team-mate.

“I don’t think he realises how good he is. I’ve seen him do that plenty of times. But those two points, you’ll never see two better points to win a game for any team. Delighted he did that.”

St Mullins, who are one of just four senior clubs in Carlow, have benefited from taking part in the Kilkenny junior hurling league in recent times.

“We have huge respect for Kilkenny,” says Kavanagh.

“Carlow hurling can’t thank Kilkenny enough for what they’ve done. As a county they’ve really brought us on leaps and bounds and now we get to go up against their very best so it’s brilliant.’”

st-mullins-players-celebrate-after-the-game The St Mullins players celebrate after their semi-final victory. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Éire Óg will take on Ballyboden St Enda’s in the Leinster football decider on Sunday week, meaning Carlow have clubs in provincial deciders across both codes.

“It’s definitely flying the Carlow flag. The support we get from other clubs is brilliant. You get some amount of texts on the phone before and after matches from different clubs and people in Carlow so it’s brilliant.

“Obviously Eire Og are flying the flag as well so to have two Carlow teams in the senior final it’s brilliant for the county.”

Sharpshooter Kavanagh, who is known as ‘Mouse’, explains where his nickname came from: “When I was born Sonny Cody – his son Ger was actually on the team – he came into the hospital to see Mammy and he just said, ‘He has hair like a mouse.’

“I was only two or three weeks old and it stuck,” he laughs.

“It doesn’t bother me whether they call me Martin or Mouse, but no one ever calls me Martin. If I ever get married it may just say Mouse on everything – if that day ever comes!”

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