For Ballyea, this journey all started out in a purple Toyota Corolla 2 months ago

For Ballyea, this journey all started out in a purple Toyota Corolla

From a purple Toyota Corolla to here.

Ballyea have come a long way in eight years. Paul Flanagan can't help but smile when reminded that, growing up, even as a grown-up, it used to be very different.

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To be fair, Ballyea did make a Clare senior hurling final, their first ever, in 2003, but that was more of a flash in the pan. It's fair to say that, over the last seven years, one of the most westerly hurling clubs in Clare have been a lot more than a flash in the pan.

They've won four of the last seven Clare senior hurling titles, including the most recent one, and that's why Flanagan is here. Here ahead of the AIB Munster club hurling final against Ballygunner, with the men from Clare chasing their second Munster title.

If these are the good days, Paul Flanagan certainly remembers the more trying ones.

"There was a time in 2014 when we called a players meeting," the 30-year-old recalls.

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"Ballyea, we are a small club. We came from the junior ranks.

"We were a younger group coming forward and we met together in the Ballyea field in 2014 and I’d say only five or six guys showed up."

Ballyea have been a tremendous run since winning their first county title in 2016.
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The meeting was short but it was effective. There were so few there that the agenda, the minutes and the speeches could all take place in a purple Toyota Corolla.

"Stan Lineen, who plays midfield for us now, his car at the time was a Toyota Corolla, the purple coloured one," Flanagan adds. "We gathered at the field and we were all able to fit into Stan’s car, it was cold and we had the team meeting in Stan’s car."

Of those that were there, ambition and a will-to-work was something they all had in common.

"We just wanted higher standards for ourselves and that’s where the approach to Robbie Hogan came from and we moved from there.

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"We wanted more as a group. That was the start of it and we’re a long way from there now," says Flanagan, who was nominated for an All-Star in 2022.

Manager Robbie Hogan is still at the helm, and Flanagan says that the out-and-out Ballyea man has been central to their rise.

"He’s so honest and humble," Flanagan says.

"He’s a stone throw from Ballyea’s field. You’d describe him as a really good friend at this stage. A guy who looks out for you not only on the hurling field, but definitely off it."

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"He’s a tiler by trade and he’s hoping to tile my house in the new year and we’ve been talking about that and trying to figure out bits and pieces. He’s one of those genuine guys, he’s given his heart and soul to us and we’re privileged to have him."

In 2016, they made it all the way to the All-Ireland final where they were eventually beaten by Cuala. Nine of that team that started in their recent Munster semi-final win over St Finbarr's started that day but Flanagan says that young lads have re-invigorated the thing.

"There's a core group of guys that have been there since '16.  But we've young lads in. I coached Aaron Griffin when he was under-12. You've Mossy Gavin, I had Mossy in teams up along. Cillian Brennan, Morgan Garry as well."

As mentioned above, being one of the most westerly hurling clubs in Clare which means that Ballyea pull in footballers from surrounding clubs. They come from Cooraclare, Coolmeen, Kilmihill, Clondegad, Kildysart, Lissycasey and Shannon Gaels and Flanagan explains the situation.

"We're a really unique group. Because football and hurling work every second week in Clare, on a hurling week, we could only have four or five training.  It's a strange thing. And it's must be some land for a coach to get! But we always say that while the quantity mightn't be high, the quality is!"

One of those footballers is Pearse Lillis and Flanagan says that all of his team-mates, nobody relishes the tight games more than that man.

"Pearse Lillis, who plays for the Clare footballers, he's a deadly man for saying that he loves one point wins! He'd rather win by one point than win by ten points. That's his line. I'm coming around to his thinking!

"But I'd prefer if there was a bit more of a gap. But I met some of our supporters the last day, and they said they'd actually be more worried if we were four or five points up."

To win by one against Ballygunner would be the stuff of dreams...

Provincial glory up for grabs! Paul Flanagan of Ballyea (Clare), pictured today ahead of the 2022 AIB Munster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Final which takes place this Saturday, December 3rd at 3.15pm at FBD Semple Stadium, Co. Tipperary. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland.