I TOOK a trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday for the Munster club senior final between Ballygunner and Kilmallock hoping for a cracking game of hurling.
Sad to say, that wasn’t the case, but it was not a wasted exercise either, because the Waterford champions exhibited everything that that one would wish to see on a very grey January day.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh was in superb condition and that was a great tribute to those charged with looking after the Cork GAA headquarters.
It was certainly a far cry from the day Cork played Wexford in a national league game a few years ago, when, at the end of the game, the pitch was in a terrible condition and the ground had to be closed.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh is now a very close second to Croke Park, where the state of the pitch is concerned, and that is something we should all be proud of.
The attendance, as is the case with most of these club finals when the vast majority of those present are from the competing clubs, with only a handful of neutrals taking in the game, was in the low thousands.
Ballygunner, given their dominance in Waterford over the past eight years, were the fancied team, but much was expected from Kilmallock after their very emphatic victory over Midleton in the semi-final.
Kilmallock, coached by Echo columnist Tony Considine, looked very impressive and their brace of points just after the throw-in on Sunday suggested that they were really in the mood.
But that mood quickly darkened as Ballygunner took complete control and the game, as a contest, was as good as over by the interval.
Both defensively and particularly offensively they were a joy to watch and they just took the Limerick champions apart.
The game and the outcome certainly showed Waterford hurling up in a very good light and county team boss, Liam Cahill, must have been delighted to see star forward, Pauric Mahony, in scintillating form after being tortured by injury over the past two seasons.
Having him back to his best for the forthcoming national league and subsequently, the Munster championship will be a major boost.
Cork must travel to Walsh Park for the championship encounter and, similar to every game in the competition, that will be no easy task.
And a lot of Cork supporters would not have happy memories of that venue going back the years.
Another Waterford player who contributed handsomely to the win last Sunday was Dessie Hutchinson and unlike a lot of other club teams around the province, there wasn’t an over-reliance on one or two players to secure scores.
Stephen O’Keeffe, up to the time of his premature retirement, was possibly the number one goalkeeper in the country and he proved that again against Kilmallock.
He made one save that had to be witnessed to be believed and his overall display, his puck-out strategy, was first-class. If I was the Waterford boss, I would move heaven and earth to try to get him back into the inter-county frame.
Ballygunner have won eight county titles on the trot and that is quite a remarkable achievement by any set of standards.
A long, long time ago, a great Glen Rovers team accomplished that feat and that too took some doing, players having the drive to keep their standards so high from one year to the next and for such a lengthy period of time.
In Waterford, another great club, Mount Sion, hold the record, with nine, and I have no doubt the Gunners will now set their sight on that when the All-Ireland club series is completed in February.
What a club final we might get if it’s Ballygunner and Ballyhale-Shamrocks, two clubs from neighbouring counties with a huge rivalry.
But Slaughtneil, from Ulster, and St Thomas, from Galway, will surely have something to say before that might come to pass.
The Munster Council have now very successfully run their provincial hurling programme and there was a nice spread of winners last Sunday.
There was a strong Cork connection, with John Meyler’s Kilmoyley edging out Courcey Rovers in the intermediate final.
Courceys looked to be heading to the winner’s enclosure in the Gaelic Grounds when they had a couple of points of an advantage entering stoppage time, but Kilmoyley’s resilience, illustrated so often in the past, shone through again and in extra-time they had that bit more fuel in the tank.
The Cork champions will be disappointed that they didn’t close out the game, but they should hold their heads very high after achieving their main priority of landing a very competitive Cork title, which has resulted in their graduation to a higher grade next season.
So, the Cork flag will have to be flown by Ballygiblin in the All-Ireland club series after their brilliant win over Tipp champions Skeheenarinky in the junior final.
Ronan Dwane has done a magnificent job in guiding this very small club to a historic triumph and this was a great reward for a great Cork hurling man.
So, well done to him and this little vibrant club on the Cork-Tipp border.
Last Sunday, once again, illustrated that these provincial club championships have added a whole new dimension to the GAA landscape and how they have given small but vibrant clubs the opportunity to compete and shine on the biggest of stages.