Ballincollig's blend of youth and experience guides them back to the hurling big time

Ballincollig's blend of youth and experience guides them back to the hurling big time
Ballincollig players celebrate after defeating Blackrock. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

RORY O’DOHERTY had a special request ahead of the intermediate county final.

The veteran has hurled at senior level in green for 20 years. 

He was a callow but wristy 17-year-old in Ballincollig’s last victory in 1999.

Now used more from the bench than at throw-in, though his wrists are as slick as ever, he asked for the number 20 geansaí for the big occasion on Sunday.

It was tempting faith perhaps if Ballincollig had failed to deliver in the Páirc, but he came off the bench to fire a point and assist another. 

Ballincollig's Rory O'Doherty breaks from Blackrock's Alex Hogan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballincollig's Rory O'Doherty breaks from Blackrock's Alex Hogan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The other subs used Fenton Denny and Seán Walsh weren’t even born when O’Doherty made his senior debut.

The blend of youth and experience was exactly why the Village returned to the Premier level yesterday having been relegated in 2013. 

U21s Ross O’Donovan, James O’Leary, Luke Fahy and Robbie Bourke were as integral to seeing off Blackrock’s second team as the powerpacked half-back unit of Ciarán O’Sullivan, Liam Jennings and JP Murphy and free-taker Cian Dorgan.

“I asked the lads to put 20 on my back and it was a bit nostalgic but look there is a new breed of hurler now in Ballincollig. 

"The difference between 20 years ago and now is there is so much youth around and the infrastructure is in place and the quality of coaches are involved for us to target going senior within five years. We have to be ambitious.

“I was lucky enough to play with brilliant hurlers in Ballincollig. Podsie O’Mahony, Denis Twomey [who is now the club doctor], Geoff O’Connell, Johnny and Danny Dwyer, some greats. It’s fantastic to be still involved and the set-up we have under Danny and the selectors is ideal.”

Danny Dwyer had Paul O’Connor, Don Walshe, Donie Hegarty and Tommy Weste on board as selectors with an extensive backroom which included former keeper Ken O’Mahony who hurled with O’Doherty’s father Pat in the 1980s.

“My father played until he was 40 so that’s something I’ve always admired!”

It wasn’t all plain-sailing for Ballincollig this season. They were defeated by Meelin in round one and coming through the backdoor drew with Midleton on a night when O’Doherty was brought on and then taken back off.

“That wasn’t great no! You have to go with it and since then I changed my mindset and it’s just great to come on and contribute. This is a launch-pad for our club because we have the numbers to be setting high targets.

“It’s what has been going on underage has produced a more natural, better technical hurler than we’ve had before.”

Colin Moore, Dave Bowen, Ian Coughlan and Fenton Denny celebrate.
Colin Moore, Dave Bowen, Ian Coughlan and Fenton Denny celebrate.

At nearly 31, David Bowen is one of the old breed as well but certainly doesn’t lack in skill and verve. The teacher in Coláiste Choilm has seen it all for Ballincollig.

“Two years ago I was lucky enough to coach some of the new guys, they were knocking on the door at U15 and U16, Robbie Bourke, Ross O’Donovan, James O’Leary – who was absolutely colossal at full-back. Even go down to U10s, U11s, U12s, we have serious hurlers now who are up there with any of them.

“Every year we’re going to get hurlers and those young guys are actually driving it on. They want to learn all the time. The effort they put in down the hurling alley and at training is an inspiration to us older lads.”

There has been a lot of disappointment in the modern era, including a semi-final loss to Éire Óg last year, while underage silverware has been scare until back-to-back U16 Premier 2 counties in 2017-‘18.

“I was involved in a Minor A county in 2003 and someone told me recently I was the only one still hurling for the intermediates. We’d Aubert Twomey, Ciáran’s father Christy, Johnny Dwyer, Eugene O’Callaghan and a few more involved and you know what getting out of this grade means to people like that.

“Even in our team, Ciarán O’Sullivan, Liam Jennings, Conor Sexton and JP Murphy, they’re warriors.”

Conor Sexton catches the sliotar. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.
Conor Sexton catches the sliotar. Picture: Eddie O'Hare.

“To be able to go through the village all week and see the amount of bunting and flags up and the way the schools got behind us all… it was terrific. I got texts from people I grew up idolising like Podsie O’Mahony wishing me luck and that just means everything. It’s a special club, it really is.

“I really appreciate what Danny and Johnny Dwyer and more put into hurling. They live for hurling.

“You go down now and there’s a great rapport with all the ages. You go down to the alley and the young fellas, some of them only eight or nine years of age, and they just puck away at the same time as you. No fear of them one bit.

“Now we’re back up premier intermediate hurling we can keep the injection of youth going. It’s onwards and upwards because this isn’t the last stop on the journey for this group or the club. I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years I have left.

“I really want to play senior hurling with the club. That’s what I’m dreaming of.”

Cian Dorgan goes past Blackrock's Ross Coleman. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cian Dorgan goes past Blackrock's Ross Coleman. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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