Patrick Dwyer of Ballymartle tells the story of their journey to an AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship Club Final against Dicksboro of Kilkenny which was decided by a last-second goal.
Like most people at home, I first picked up a hurley in primary school. There’s a fantastic primary school in Belgooly and we had a great principal called Eamon Kelly who got us all involved at a young age. I remember him bringing us out and training us on our lunch breaks, we all loved it.
From there my father Dan was heavily involved at underage, he used to bring me to every match, I don’t think he ever missed one. We used to have half a dozen fellas in the back of the jeep, I don’t think we’d get away with it now!
My own age group only had two or three of us ‘of the age’ and we weren’t too successful, we were on the receiving end of a few hidings if I’m honest. Success came later on, there was a combination of age groups coming together at the right time.
The County Title
When the Cork County board split the Intermediate grade in two, we weren’t playing well at the time and Ballymartle were placed in the lower grade. We came together at the beginning of the 2006 season and felt we had a real point to prove. We all put the head down and made a commitment to each other that we would give it everything and get the club back to where it belonged. That season ended with us overcoming Carrigaline in the county final. It was a significant boost to for the club and showed us what we could achieve when we approached it in the right way.
Of course, the work was nowhere near done, it was one thing to get back to Premier Intermediate but now we had to prove ourselves all over again. In 2008 we got to the semi-final of the county and we were well on top of Carrigtwohill, but they came back and knocked us out. While it was obviously disappointing not to make the final, we very much belonged at the higher grade.
In 2009 we went one better and got to the county final, the buzz around the village was brilliant, there were flags everywhere. I’d have to admit that we got caught up in the hype, we underperformed against a very good Douglas outfit and we lost that game.
It was devastating for me to get so close and lose out.
I was the captain of the team and my father was sick in hospital, the plan had been to take the cup into him after we’d won it and he passed away a few days later, it was just… heartbreaking.
After he had passed the nurses talked about how they couldn’t believe he had hung on for so long, they said he should have gone weeks earlier but he kept fighting. He talked about the match every day, all he wanted to do was make the final. After that I had it in my head that I was going to get back to the final again and this time I was going to win that cup for him.
In 2009 our managers Eddie Murphy and Anthony McCarthy brought us together and promised us that if we stuck together and gave it our full commitment that they would get us that cup.
I don’t think we lost a match all year.
We came up against one of our local rivals, Courcey Rovers, in the semi-final. They had handed me a fair few of those hidings we’d suffered at underage, it was great to overcome them. Once we had got back into the final, I didn’t think there was any team that could have stopped us. We had learned our lessons from previous years and were much more focused. The brother Dan got two brilliant goals in the first half and after that we were never going to be beaten.
It was a special feeling to get back and win the cup having been so close the year before, bringing that cup back to Ballymartle was our goal and the pressure was off. The celebrations were well-earned. Some senior teams will start the year with the goal of getting to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, an intermediate team looks to win the county, anything more than that is bonus territory.
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The Road to Croker
The managers Eddie and Anthony brought us together again, the same way they had at the start of the season. They said we were fully entitled to keep the celebrations going as we had given so much winning the county, but if we decided as a team to put the head down again that we could be playing in Croke Park.
You don’t have to guess what our answer was.
We always prepared to the utmost degree, Eddie and Anthony never left anything to chance. I remember we beat Padraig Pearse’s of Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, Cyril Donnellan was their centre-forward and playing savage hurling at the time. Eddie was on to me every day before the match “He turns this way, he goes one way, he fakes that way”, I think I knew everything about Cyril thanks to Eddie, I probably knew the colour of his eyes at one stage.
In the build-up to the All-Ireland final the atmosphere in the village was amazing, however as I mentioned before we had learned our lessons and the managers made sure that everything within the squad was low-key, we were going to Croke Park to do a job.
As a team we went up to Croke Park the week before the final and took a tour of the stadium, it made a huge difference because we weren’t going into the final in awe of the place, we did it the week before which helped us to focus on the task at hand.
I remember the excitement on the bus driving to the stadium, you just get the sense of history in the place. Normally when we were going to Croke Park we were going to watch a match, now I’m pulling the gear bag and the hurley out of the bus and and thinking “this is special, to actually get to tog out and play here”. It’s every young player’s dream to play in Croke Park and to get to play there in a final, for my club, was a special moment.
One of our most influential players, Brian Corry, broke his hand in a challenge match against De La Salle a week earlier. He had been one of the main reasons we had reached the final and the managers gave him the last word before we went out onto the pitch. I won’t repeat anything he said but he gave us that extra fire in the belly, we wanted to win it for him as well. The atmosphere in the dressing room was electric, everyone was just bursting to get out there and that was reflected in our performance at the start of the game.
We started like a train, Daniel Edmonds put one over the bar in the first 20 seconds. Daniel wouldn’t be noted for his scoring prowess, he was thrown up in the forwards because of Brian’s injury. Suddenly Daniel scored another point and I thought “this must be our day, Dan’s after racking up two points!” Before I knew it, we were six points up after six minutes, hurling out of our skins, I don’t think we’ve ever played better.
One of our flaws was that we tended to slow down and allow teams back into the game and we did the same against Dicksboro. In fairness to them they were a quality team, they were a Kilkenny team, you know what you’re getting there, they were never going to give up. Before I knew it, they were back in the game. They kept coming at us, it was tit for tat, we were losing a bit of momentum.
Just before half-time there was a high ball went into the square, their full forward was on his own, caught it and our goalie Deccie Mac (Declan McCarthy) came out and absolutely buried him. It was always going to be a penalty, but it stopped a certain goal. Looking back, I thought it wasn’t going to be an easy penalty to score, we had Deccie Mac, Darren McCarthy, and John Kelly – all Cork minor goalkeepers – on the line.
Deccie made a great save which meant we went in at half-time a point up instead of two points down. We needed that boost.
We came out flying again in the second half, scoring 1-1 very quickly. It’s a testament to Dicksboro that they kept chipping away at the lead, after a while they were really starting to turn things, we were hanging in there. They hit back with a goal, I thought we were further ahead but there was only 4 points in it, I knew we had to win the next ball.
Deccie launched it up the field, there were three or four men under it and my cousin Ruairi put up the hand and came down with the ball. He was fouled after he came down and I saw him pumping his fist. Ruairi’s a fierce competitor and he knew as well as I did that we had to win that ball, that lifted us all. From that long-range free his brother Barry sailed the sliotar straight into the net.
The momentum was going one way and then another, it was the small things that kept us in the fight. I remember Seamus Corry diving full length to make a block and taking a sliotar straight to the face, that’s the level of commitment that we had shown all day and all year.
There were just a few minutes left and a Dicksboro man was running through on goal, they were a point up at the time, he sent an absolute rocket of a shot goalwards. I saw it destined for the corner and out of nowhere Deccie got his stick to it and flicked it to safety. It was an unbelievable save, I’ve no doubt that if that shot went in it was curtains.
I had faith that we could get the point back to draw it, they were coming on the attack and I remember running around the square roaring “We have to win this!”. Whatever way I looked they knocked it straight down the middle of the field and there was my man, all on his own, he tapped it over the bar.
Two points down, time was up, what a disaster.
My brother Dan was out on the wing screaming for the ball, Deccie rifled the ball towards him.
“He has to win this, he was to win this…”
Next thing his man caught it over his head.
I thought to myself “I’m going to choke him when I got home!”
In fairness to Dan he never gives up, he kept his man up, wouldn’t give him an inch. Next thing the whistle blew. Free in.
I didn’t know if it was for over-carrying or barging but I wasn’t going to question it.
Darren McCarthy went to take the free. 50 yards out from goal. When he’s on the ball he’s always capable of doing something special.
He hit an absolute peach of a strike, perfect height, zipping in towards the goal, it had such pace to it, all it needed was a flick.
There was no flick, I couldn’t see the ball, everything stopped for a second.
“Where is it?!” I thought to myself.
Suddenly all our forwards were jumping around, leaping in the air, I knew then it was after hitting the net. It was some feeling. Time was up.
The keeper pucked it out, the ref blew the final whistle.
Darren was right next to me, I remember hugging Darren, everyone else jumping in on top of us.
I fell to the ground, I looked up and in that moment, I thought of my Dad. He definitely had something to do with it.
To lift the trophy, you look back at so many famous hurlers, so many famous players walking up the steps of the Hogan stand. So many famous speeches…
To do it in front of your own family, your own club, your friends. That’s special. It’s so special to do it as part of a club because the win belongs to everyone. There are ladies there, Essie Sheehan and a few others, they make us tea and sandwiches every night before championship matches. To see them celebrating in Croke Park was brilliant. So many people do so many things for the club and they deserved that reward.
The club is our community, it’s our family. It’s a small club but it’s a small club with a huge heart.
A fairytale ending to a fairytale year.
If you enjoyed Patrick’s article, you might like to read Aoife Ni Chaiside’s “A Moment To Cherish“.
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