John Horgan: Hurling has never been better after a series of winter thrillers

Standard of the game in the provincial championships and Erin's Own's Junior A final win over Kilshannig shows why hurling is in rude health
John Horgan: Hurling has never been better after a series of winter thrillers

Bill Curtin, Kilshannig, battling Cian O'Callaghan, Erin's Own, in the cracking JAHC final replay. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THE deeper we go into winter time the better the game of hurling seems to be getting.

In times past hurling was looked upon as being far more suited to the spring and summer months when the sun shone and the pitches were far more suitable to that time of the year.

But now, on the evidence that has been presented over the past number of weeks, a case could be made for more hurling to be played in November and December.

Most of the emphasis in recent weeks has been on the various provincial club championships with only a few counties left to complete their own competitions.

Here in Cork, the county board did a magnificent job in running off their programme so efficiently and given the number of participants at all levels, they deserve to be applauded for the success of the group stage format.

A draw the first day in the county junior A hurling final involving Erin’s Own and Kilshanning decreed that things ran a bit later in that competition and it were not finalised until last Sunday when the Caherlag outfit secured that particular title for the very first time in their illustrious history.

Given how successful the club has been at elevated levels, winning intermediate and senior titles that might come as a surprise to many.

Sometimes when a senior club wins at a lower level the excitement in that particular club might not be as great as it would be if the Sean Og Murphy cup was lifted but that was certainly not the case with Erin’s Own.

Now that they have filled the empty space in their trophy cabinet with the one title that had eluded them, the pride will be immense in their latest achievement.

 James McMahon, Erin's Own, lifts the cup. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
James McMahon, Erin's Own, lifts the cup. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

It takes a lot of work for a club’s second team to be successful, firstly you have to get out of your own division and whilst all the divisions are not as competitive as they once were, it still requires plenty of effort and, of course, you must have the necessary resources.

The second or third teams of most clubs are a blend of youth and experience and that’s what the victorious Erin’s Own team had last Sunday, a few senior citizens who have given the club sterling service down the years and those that are hoping to be as successful as they once were.

Two of those very experienced players were Pat Fitzgerald and Shane Murphy and club chair, Tom Aherne paid a glowing tribute to them and to all the players on duty.

“Firstly, it was great to win this title. You could say it was an itch to scratch and we finally did that last Sunday.

“The likes of Pat and Shane had won county medals at most other grades from under-16 up but not at junior level and now in the latter days of their careers they have done that.

“The county junior title is a hard one to win but this year we had the junior squad in training with the seniors under Martin Bowen and that was a big plus.

“Our senior keeper Shay Bowen, Martin’s son was the trainer and he and the other lads did a great job.

“Mark Collins scored 19 points for us, that might be a record in itself at that level and he was immense for us with his free taking.

PRIDE

“Look, it’s great for the club, it used to be said down the years that it would have been great to win a junior county but now we have done it and there’s great pride in that achievement.

It will certainly shorten the winter for us."

And what about Ballygiblin, a second Munster club title in two years, that surely took some doing and great praise must be given to the squad of players and to team boss Ronan Dwane?

Dwane is a hurling man through and through and he certainly got the best out of this bunch and there’s an All-Ireland to be played for again.

Munster champions Ballygiblin. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Munster champions Ballygiblin. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

And what about the scoring statistics from their game with the Limerick champions, St Kieran’s?

Over the course of the entire hour there were just four players, two from each side contributing on the scoreboard. Surely, that must constitute some sort of a record with Shane Beston delivering 3-3 and Joseph O’Sullivan 0-9 for the Cork champions in their 3-12 to 0-11 triumph.

Ballygiblin are now preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final and before the great man from Lapland does his deliveries we have potentially the match of the year, maybe the decade with the collision again of Ballygunner and Ballyhale-Shamrocks in the senior semi-final.

Two outstanding club teams going head to head again just a week before Christmas, both of them containing some of the best forwards in the country.

What inter-county side can boast players of the calibre of Dessie Hutchinson, Pauric Mahony and young Patrick Fitzgerald for Ballygunner against on the other side, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody, Adrian Mullen and Colin Fennelly for Ballyhale?

Ballyhale’s victory over Kilmcud Crokes in the Leinster final illustrated to us once more that no lead in hurling is secure now.

The Kilkenny team led by 14 points three minutes into the second half but at the end they were clinging on for dear life after an amazing comeback from the Dublin team in what was an amazing game of hurling for this or any other time of the year.

It proved again that the time of the year does not really matter anymore, the game of hurling never ceases to amaze, the game at all levels continues to fascinate us and now as we go deeper into the last month of the year we may well be proved correct in saying that the best may be yet to come.

The World Cup might be generating all the interest at the moment but the latest installment of Ballygunner and Ballyhale-Shamrocks next weekend may well top everything.

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