Granagh/Ballingarry braced for senior action

February 16, 2006
Having won the 2005 intermediate hurling championship, Granagh/Ballingarry will contest the Limerick SHC for the first time in '06. Boasting an exciting young side as well a strong, focused committee and management team, the Black & Greens are well equipped to cope with the demands of top-grade hurling. Granagh-Ballingarry will be senior for the first time this year, having beaten Glenroe by 4-10 to 3-10 in the 2005 Limerick IHC final. They enjoyed a marvellous championship campaign, also accounting for Newcastlewest, Cappamore, Bruff, Claughaun and Pallasgreen en route to intermediate glory, all of which augurs well for the amalgamated club's maiden year at the top table. When Hogan Stand met up with club chairman Philip Lane, secretary John Lynch and team manager Tom Burke shortly before Christmas, all three were in upbeat mood. And little wonder! Granagh-Ballingarry have never been in better shape and there's no reason in the world why they can't make a major impression in the senior grade. The chairman admits he wasn't surprised to see the players reap their deserved rewards: "A lot of effort was invested from the beginning of the year, with the aim of going senior after so many years. The dedication of the players and mentors was unbelievable and the discipline throughout the team was superb as they all set about achieving that goal. It was a tall order as we had never been senior before, but the lads climbed the mountain superbly." With an average age of 23 or 24, the team is graduating to senior ranks at just the right time. They are eminently capable of sustaining their progress and consolidating. In 2005, Donal O'Grady had the distinction of becoming Granagh/Ballingarry's first ever Limerick senior hurler - a fitting reflection of the progress the club is making. Philip has been chairman for three years and served as vice-chairman for two years prior to that. He has been re-elected for a fourth year in the chair and is looking forward to leading Granagh-Ballingarry into the challenge of senior hurling. "We've put good underage structures in place and we're building from that. We have some great people looking after our underage hurlers. Our junior Bs have been to two county finals and lost by a point two years in succession and the junior A football section of the club is also going well, so we're happy with how things are progressing at the moment." How will the lads cope at the highest level? "It's a big step up and a lot of big clubs have come down, but I think we're good enough to hold our own with eight or nine of the 15 other senior teams. We have a talented young side and we should be okay." In off-the-field developments, Granagh/Ballingarry added a new electronic scoreboard to their impressive facilities this year. These facilities - which include meeting room, handball alley and four dressing-rooms (which are fully heated and tiled, with showers) - are rated amongst the best in the county and are made available to local schools. The club will continue to work on developing both players and facilities as the chairman believes "you can't afford to take your foot off the pedal". Of course, the running expenses of any club are very high in this day and age, and Granagh/Ballingarry is no different. Fielding teams cost up to 75,000 euro in 2005 - a huge demand on a small rural club. With a senior hurling team now to consider, this figure could rise, and the chairman is thinking ahead: "We hope to expand the clubhouse to include rooms for physio and weights. This would make us more self sufficient. You need these facilities in order to move forward." Looking forward to the draw for the 2006 Limerick SHC, Philip notes: "We need a decent draw to get ourselves started. It would be nice not to come up against the likes of Patrickswell or Adare in the first round but, having said that, we know we're at a standard now where none of the games are going to be easy. "We have a strong panel and a few players are transferring back to Granagh/Ballingarry. We'll be selecting from about 28 good hurlers, including Donal O'Grady and five lads who played for the Limerick intermediate team in 2005. Tom Burke and his backroom team have been returned en bloc. The same personnel will be in place this year as we had in 2005. The continuity makes sense because the confidence is there now and there's no point changing a winning formula." Tom Burke will be manager again this year, with the same backroom team in place: Mossie O'Connor, John Lacey (trainer/coach), Kevin Kennedy and Gerry O'Donovan. Tom's involvement with the club goes back a long way - he was secretary in 1954 at the age of 17 and brought a previous Ballingarry team to a county junior title in 1979. "That was a fantastic achievement as Granagh had won it in '76," he reflects. "It was a great achievement for the parish to win two championships in three years during a difficult time." Granagh and Ballingarry had been playing together on and off since 1945 but came together in their present incarnation in 1990. As founding club chairman, Mossie O'Connor oversaw the dawning of this new era. Several west Limerick titles were scooped in the 1990s before Granagh/Ballingarry collected the Limerick JHC in 1998. Granagh/Ballingarry went close to intermediate success on a few occasions and Tom was appointed manager last year with the express task of securing senior status. "I decided to put in place the best backroom team I could find. Mossie, John, Kevin and Gerry are all very strong characters and the four of them made a massive contribution. I could never have achieved anything without them. We sat down and discussed what we might do because we knew we had an exceptional bunch of people and we wanted to get the best out of them. "We took the players into UL for fitness assessments and put them through their paces. They got their readings and I'm sure it was a shock to some of them! Based on that, we brought the players together to see how they felt about the prospect of a hard year's effort and they said they were up for it. "John Lacey proved to be a great asset to the team and an outstanding man. He took them three nights a week in the Ballingarry grounds and sometimes Sunday mornings too. Nobody missed a training session and we had the total respect of the players, which worked both ways. "Early on, we reached a league final against Knockainey and produced one of our best performances of the year. We beat them by seven points to gain promotion, which suits us down to the ground. Hurling at a higher level in the league will give the lads a taste of what's expected in the senior championship. "After the league final, the players felt that they had arrived and that they could have a good year…" The team produced some quality displays in a hard-fought intermediate championship. Tom continues: "The intermediate championship is a great competition with very little between any of the teams. We beat Cappamore by six points and were lucky to beat Newcastlewest by two. We then got the better of Bruff and Claughaun. "The semi-final against Pallasgreen was another great game, as was the final against Glenroe. That was a terrific encounter, which we won by a goal, and Glenroe could consider themselves very unlucky to lose. It was one of the best matches of the year at any grade and really could have gone either way." These are the most exciting times experienced in the parish since Ballingarry won intermediate and senior championships in successive years in 1910 and 1911. Does Tom Burke rate his team's chances of holding their own at senior level in 2006? "Yes, we're as good as any of them. It'll take a good team effort and that's what we intend to deliver. In Mossie O'Connor, John Lacey, Kevin Kennedy and Gerry O'Donovan I have a brilliant team working alongside me and I know those lads can do a great job. They're brilliant lads and they can help us do well in senior ranks. "The whole parish will be right behind us again. The parish has given us tremendous support and it's great to be able to give them senior hurling in return. The black and green flags were still flying over Christmas. It's great for the morale of the parish. It lifts people's spirits to see our children doing so well. They're a very committed bunch and we're proud of them." Club secretary John Lynch places the historic success of 2005 firmly into context: "It was our best year since 1911 when Ballingarry won the senior hurling championship after winning the IHC the previous year. So we're hoping for another two-in-a-row in 2006…" Is it really possible that a senior title could be garnered this year? "History often repeats itself," John quips. "We have a lot of good young players coming through, and that's important. And their commitment is exceptional. They were asked at the start of 2005 to postpone any holiday plans until after November, because they had lost at the quarter-final or semi-final stage for six years in a row. Once the players gave that commitment, I was very confident. I knew they had the talent to win an intermediate championship. "They've also been making steady progress in the league, moving from Division Five to Division Two in the space of three years. This progress is very important and shows that the team is improving all the time. We're hoping it's going to be another memorable year."

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