Craig Carrigan accepts the County Junior 'A' Hurling title cup from County Board chairman, John Devane.
According to Anthony Dillon, secretary of Ballybacon/Grange Hurling Club, Sunday’s South Intermediate Final against Carrick Davins (at Monroe, Sunday at 7 pm) is “bonus territory” for his club in their first year back at intermediate grade.
The past few years have been somewhat of a roller-coaster for the Ballybacon/Grange club, founded in 1927, going through the process of relegation from senior grade in 2012/2013, falling through intermediate grade, down to junior ‘A’ grade for a couple of years, and now back up again to intermediate grade in 2017/2018. But for now at least the graph is going in the right direction again and the club will be hoping to steady the ship at this grade as they re-build for the future.
It is worth mentioning that intermediate grade was Ballybacon/Grange’s comfort zone for many years and in the 15 year period from 1998 to 2013 they won no less than nine South titles. Already, in this their first year back, they are hurling comfortably within themselves.
Incredible as it seems, for a club, now 90+ years in existence, they only achieved their first-ever adult county success last year (2017) when they were triumphant in the county Junior ‘A’ final. On that famous day in November at Boherlahan they defeated Toomevara by 0-19 to 1-11, bestowing on team captain Craig Carrigan the honour of bringing county hurling silverware back to the village for the very first time ever.
That historic win went a long way towards making up for the heartbreak of the previous year when they lost to Kildangan by a point in the county Junior ‘A’ final in Holycross.
According to Anthony Dillon “the club has been working hard and pulling together since Sean Maher took over this team at the start of 2016. We had a great year last year, not alone in winning the county title but in going all the way to a Munster final. That run has done great things for us and has given the players belief and a greater appetite for the game.
This year's Ballybacon/Grange captain Declan Walsh in action in last year's Munster Intermediate Hurling Championship against Kenmare at Ardfinnan.
“The win against Toome’ was a great performance but I thought we played particularly well also in the Munster semi-final in Ardfinnan against Cork side, St. Catherine’s. They were a good team, but we hurled particularly well that day and deserved it,” added Anthony. (Ballybacon/Grange won by 1-11 to 0-9 with goalkeeper Brendan Cummins pointing six frees).
“We came up against a very tough and experienced Ardmore side in the Munster final in Mallow. We went in at the break four points down and we felt we were still in with a chance. But they made a few changes at the break after having a couple of players sent off and they then scored a pair of quick goals. We tried our best to claw it back but we couldn’t. They had that bit on us all the time,” added Anthony.
“But still it was a marvellous experience for us, a once-off of getting to a Munster final. Who would have believed it? We did play in the same competition the year before because of a rule whereby we were the last junior club without a senior club, but we were beaten then by Ballyduff in the Munster quarter-final. But last year gave us invaluable experience and a hunger for more success,” added the Ballybacon/Grange secretary.
“This year we are going well, we think. We only had the two championship games to date. We beat Kilsheelan/Kilcash in the first round of the county championship in Golden. And we beat Moyle Rovers in the knock-out semi-final of the South below in Davin Park. We also played a few games in the county league and on Sunday morning we beat Gortnahoe/Glengoole, last year’s county intermediate runners-up to St. Mary’s,” continued Anthony.
“We are close enough to full strength for the final, we have a few unavailable to us because they are in America for the summer, but most of the rest are there again from last year. This year we have Colm O’Shaughnessy back fully fit after his bad injury. We’ll be looking to Daniel O’Regan, Brendan Cummins, Billy Hewitt, Colin O’Gorman, Sean Nagle, Michael O’Sullivan and a few more. And Declan Walsh is this year’s captain,” added Sean.
“Being in the final first year back is bonus territory for us, especially with the championship being a straight knock-out format. Few would have given us a chance of getting there - Davins, Kilsheelan/Kilcash and Moyle Rovers are strong at this grade. But we earned our right by beating Moyle Rovers in the semi-final.
“The Davins are always tough to get the better of anytime. We last beat them in a South final in 2007, winning by a single point that night down in Kilsheelan. They too have come down from senior grade in recent years and have now contested a few South finals at Intermediate grade. It will be hard to win it but we’ll give it our best shot and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” concluded the Ballybacon/Grange secretary.