BALLYGIBLIN lost the 2021-22 AIB All-Ireland Club JHC final to Kilkenny’s Mooncoin on February 5, 2022.
Just four days before that, the clubs making up Cork County Board voted in favour of a proposal that would see the Co-op SuperStores County Lower Intermediate Championship re-designated as the Premier Junior Hurling Championship.
The key upshot of the move was that the winners of the newly renamed competition would go forward to represent Cork in the Munster junior championship rather than the junior A winners, as had been the case since the inception of the provincial grade in 2002.
Ultimately, that switch is what gave Ballygiblin the unprecedented chance to atone for the defeat of 49 weeks previously as they beat Sligo’s Easkey in Saturday’s All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
However, it wasn’t an opportunity that Ballygiblin captain Fionn Herlihy was too happy with initially.
“When it first happened, I was disgusted when we got re-graded,” he said, “they took the intermediate status away from us.
“But we knew deep down from the start of the year, it was a carrot that was there. We knew that Lisgoold won back-to-back when they went up so there was a possibility but we were going to be well up against it in Cork.
“It was in the back of our minds – the be-all and end-all was to win the county but this tops it off.
“This is what everyone dreams of, playing in Croke Park first of all, and winning something there with your club and your friends. It’s incredible.”
The Ballygiblin journey has encompassed 22 championship matches since their 2021 Avondhu JAHC campaign began in the autumn of that year.
“I put it out of my head last year that it wasn’t going to happen!” he laughed.
“It is emotional because it is an incredible feeling. The colour you’d see out there, the songs – we did an ‘’ thing for charity last night [Friday] and listening to the people who founded the club in the 1950s and then the first team that won something, in the 60s.
“It’s just fantastic.”
Now the current team have added themselves to that roll of honour – but to do that they had divorce themselves from the hype and the build-up.
“To be fair, Easkey are a serious outfit,” Herlihy says. “we were hearing a lot of crap over the last three weeks.
“The extra two weeks was good for a break but it was tough over Christmas when we were out socialising and everyone was telling us we were going to win it easily. If sport was that easy, we’d all be professionals and make it to the top!
“We had to keep the noise out and concentrate on ourselves. We have so many leaders all over the field. We have three of four backs who can man-mark. We have such a presence with Mark [Keane] and four or five scorers up front.
“It’s probably the grafters that win it for you that Kieran Duggan has been sensational every day he has come off the bench. He probably deserves to start but you know he is going to make such an impact off the bench it works out better.
“They’re an incredible bunch of lads and the age profile is quite young.
Any future success will be built upon a strong defence as much as a potent attack – the final was the fifth straight game without conceding a goal since the county final win over Tracton.
Herlihy feels that having to deal with the team’s forwards in training provides the perfect preparation.
“We pride ourselves on ‘no goals’,” he said, “it will take a hell of a team to out-point us.
“We are so familiar with each other [in defence]. The communication is unreal. When you are winning, people want to die for each other.
“I’d be playing myself off the team in training because I’d be marking Cathail O’Mahony or Seán O’Sullivan! I’m not saying it’s easy when you go to these matches but you’re not going to meet a bigger challenge than you’d get from our fellas.”