HANDS up: Who has Googled Ballygiblin in the past three years to find out where they are actually from?
That may seem a ridiculous question to anyone from the north-east corner of Cork, or anyone who knows their hurling. But not everyone would have known. that Ballygiblin was effectively the hurling branch of Mitchelstown, even if a lot of folk from the crossroads are extremely proud of their separate identity.
Their 1-16 to 0-11 victory over Easkey of Sligo in the All-Ireland Junior Hurling Club Championship final at Croke Park on
Saturday evening saw them grab national headlines, but this was just the latest in an ever-growing list of impressive achievements by the club.
An All-Ireland crown has now been added to two provincial titles and a pair of county ones.
That is not bad going for a club that had only the one North Cork Junior A Hurling Championship title on their honours list before 2018, with that achieved back in 2004.
As a club it is safe to say they have not made an awful lot of headlines until this recent crop of players emerged, although both Diarmuid Lynch and Dave Moher were a part of the Avondhu side that beat Imokilly, after a replay, in the 1996 county final, with Moher, of course, being the link between those two teams as their proud manager on Saturday.
About 18 months ago they faced neighbours Fermoy's second team in the North Cork Junior A Championship.
Croke Park would have been far from their minds when they trailed that one by 10, but they fought back to secure a draw that evening, and used that comeback as a catalyst to drive themselves on to divisional and county glory.
A Munster crown was quickly added, before, almost a year ago, they came up just a point short of Kilkenny side Mooncoin in the All-Ireland junior decider.
Ballygarvan had got within a point of Ballygiblin in the pool stages of this year’s Cork Premier Junior Championship, while Argideen Rangers were only three points away, and in the county semi-final Russell Rovers got even closer, taking them to extra time, where the introduction of All-Ireland U20 winner Darragh Flynn off the bench proved the difference, as he registered four points in extra time.
They saw off Tracton in the final and then began their relentless march to Croke Park, seeing off Grangemockler-Ballyneale of Tipperary, Colligan of Waterford, St Kieran’s of Limerick, and Horeswood from Wexford, before facing off against Easkey in the final.
Facing a team from Sligo might not have the fear factor of a club side with the pedigree of last year’s winners Mooncoin, but on the day they showed why they had qualified for an All-Ireland final with some crisp hurling of their own.
It is great to see hurling in places like Sligo, but teams from such counties will always lack players with top-level experience, with the opening seconds of this match being a case in point.
The opening move saw Mark Keane burst onto a loose ball, use his athleticism to run right at the heart of the Easkey defence, and feed the supporting Darragh Flynn to billow the back of the net. There was to be no looking back for Ballygiblin.
Being able to call upon this calibre of player, with plenty of inter-county experience, is exactly why Ballygiblin have enjoyed so many great days in the past few years.
Add to that a ball striker of the quality of Joseph O’Sullivan, and an inter-county footballer in Cathail O’Mahony, who can be just as lethal with a plank of ash in his hand, and you have a junior hurling club in cheat mode. Ultimately, Ballygiblin won their last five games in the All-Ireland series by an aggregate margin of 42 points, which in itself demonstrates how deserving they were.
In fact, their toughest days were all within the county, which shows how competitive that grade is in Cork.
The last few years have been incredibly historic and exciting for the club. You can fully understand why Mark Keane returned from AFL football in Australia to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime period for the club.
You just hope life does not get too boring for them when they don’t have county, provincial, and All-Ireland finals every few months!