'I was really wondering would it ever happen' - From Munster bridesmaids to defending champions

Shane O’Sullivan’s Ballygunner face Borris-Ileigh in Sunday’s Munster club hurling final.

Shane O'Sullivan was speaking at the AIB GAA provincial finals media day.
Shane O'Sullivan was speaking at the AIB GAA provincial finals media day.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

THERE WAS A moment two years ago when Shane O’Sullivan wondered if Ballygunner would ever get over the line in Munster. 

He was 32 at the time, a year after retiring from inter-county duty, when Ballygunner lost their second provincial final to Na Piarisaigh in three years by a combined 15 points.

Despite their dominance in Waterford, Munster was the itch they couldn’t scratch. In 2015, the Limerick side defeated ‘Gunner by seven in the final and went on to enjoy St Patrick’s Day glory.

Following the 2017 defeat, O’Sullivan started to question whether the ageing Ballygunner side had what it takes to become top dops in Munster.

“This time 24 months ago, winning a Munster, that’s when I was really wondering would it ever happen,” he admits.

“I remember being interviewed after the game and speaking on the pitch and I did think it would happen but maybe not in my time.

“We’ve a lot of youngsters coming through and I thought they might breakthrough in time. I didn’t realise it was going to be so quick.”

They fell at the All-Ireland semi-final stage to Ballyhale Shamrocks, who went on to hammer St Thomas’ in the decider. If winning Munster was their base camp, the climb only got tougher from there.

“It took us a while obviously (to get over that). You would be reflecting. Over Christmas, we were training very hard and looking back, maybe we could have trained less.

“It took us as long as the break was until we got back into competitive championship hurling, because you refocus then, ‘We need to beat this team or that team.’

“But when you have a period of time after when you don’t train, you’re thinking of the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. But then it just flicks and you’re back focusing on something else.

“We learned that they’re a fantastic team,” he says of Ballyhale. “Hopefully, we did, but we might not get the opportunity, if we don’t win Sunday, of using that.

“That’s the importance for both teams. You only have one opportunity at this and if you don’t take it it’s gone forever.” 

Their focus this weekend is on Borris-Ileigh, who were crowned Tipperary champions for the first time in 33 years earlier this month. O’Sullivan describes them as “a formidable side”, one that contains recent Liam MacCarthy Cup winners and plenty of young talent.

“I’m not just saying that to say it, but they are actually formidable,” he says. “Obviously, watching it over the last few weeks their team is very, very strong. 

“They’ve nearly an All-Ireland senior inter-county winner in every line. You’ve Paddy Stapleton, Brendan Maher, Dan McCormack, Conor Kenny, then you have young Devaney in the full-forward line who’s the grandson of one of the greatest players to ever play the game. 

“So we’re under no illusions that they’re not an unknown to us. And anyone in Tipp who has watched them, I’m sure they’re not an unknown (to them). 

“And to beat Glen Rovers so convincingly, one of the power-houses of Munster hurling for generations, they’re definitely not unknown, from my point of view.”

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dessie-hutchinson-shoots-on-goal Ballygunner's Dessie Hutchinson shoots on goal in the semi-final. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Ballygunner have enjoyed their most convincing run through Waterford and Munster to date and O’Sullivan puts that down to the addition of three new players, plus a few positional switches.

Former professional soccer player Dessie Hutchinson has been putting in some eye-catching scoring displays that make him a cert to be part of the Waterford panel next season.

“There were a number of players, three young players that came in this year.

“So we’ve two midfielders, Conor Sheahan and Paddy Leavy and then there’s some positional switches on the team as well.

“In fairness, Dessie is performing very well, his energy. It’s a transition, an evolution so it’s fresh. For example, even though we’ve won a number of county championships, not Munsters obviously, the team has transitioned every year from a positional sense and also from new personnel coming on board which gives the team a freshness.

“So it’s not the same team that’s winning for the last six years in the county, it’s an evolution of players and I think that’s really important for the longevity or sustainability of any team, whether it’s business or a sports team.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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