Ballyhale's struggles show up GAA calendar for what it is
Winner alright, but don't get carried away.
March 17, 2019 and Ballyhale Shamrocks are the envy of every hurling club in Ireland. For the seventh time in their history, the rural powerhouse from Kilkenny have beaten all-comers again.
It's the peak of club GAA, the peak of many players' careers.
It's four years on from their last St Patrick's Day triumph and members of the country's most successful hurling club are staring up at the Tommy Moore Cup again.
What a time to be a Ballyhale Shamrock.
But as mentioned earlier, please don't get carried away.
You'll get the week off to enjoy it but you won't get much more. 13 months of non-stop hurling in the muck, wind, sun, rain and everything else you can think of but don't put the helmet away because you'll be straight back into it the following week.
And it's not some happy-go-lucky league game that you can forget about and leave behind. It's championship, it's kill or be killed.
April 6, 2019.
Fiv Ballyhale players are attending a function in Dublin for the AIB Club player of the year awards. Before that though they've the small matter of a championship opener to focus on.
Clara have been gunning for this all winter.
The 2013 and 2015 champions take it by four points as the Shamrocks struggle to hit the heights. In a game of hunger, how could they?
"I’ve said it to the uachtarain that I don’t think it’s right," said Ballyhale manager Henry Shefflin to us shortly after that game.
"St Patrick’s Day, then you’re expecting lads to go with the club again. It’s very, very challenging. For TJ, Colin and these lads, they are well used to it. But I’ve club players who are, “Jeez, we’re after training for 14 months and you’re asking me to go training again and get myself up for a club match?” It’s very difficult.
"For me, it’s learning. We trained three times for that match. Looking back, we should have trained just once, approached it as a once-off game. we talk about enjoyment, the lads weren’t enjoying training. Weren’t looking forward to it. It is very difficult to manage..."
Why are winners getting punished?
In the meantime, Ballyhale steadied the ship with a hard earned victory over O'Loughlin Gaels in April. The breathing space doesn't last long though as James Stephen's take them down by eleven points in the third round in May.
— James Stephens GAA (@VillageGAA) May 22, 2019
The absence of Colin Fennelly and Holden - through injuries no doubt related to over-exertion - is costing them but so too is the fact that it's hard to enjoy your hurling when your head isn't fully in the game. After almost 20 months on the trot, the Ballyhale players could be excused for that.
All this comes back to the GAA calendar. Corofin and Cuala (for a while) bucked the trend but exceptions shouldn't define the rule.
Where else on earth would you have losers getting a headstart on winners?