"Hurling keeps us on the up" - Fallen soldiers driving Shamrocks’ quest for glory 2 weeks ago

"Hurling keeps us on the up" - Fallen soldiers driving Shamrocks’ quest for glory

Whenever his father Patrick called, usually of a Monday or a Tuesday, Joey Holden knew that, unless he had his homework done, there was no point in picking up.

Patrick wanted to talk hurling and that was that. Who played well and who didn't. How they stayed looking at this lad and how they didn't bring that lad on sooner.

Advertisement

Nothing was held back, nobody was off limits so, a few years back, when he was living with Padraig Walsh and Colin Fennelly in Kilkenny city, there were times when Joey couldn't answer in the boys' company. For their own good.

"Every Monday or Tuesday he would ring and there would be a debrief.

"Even after the Kilkenny games I’d have to judge how Padraig and Colin performed the day before and that would dictate whether I answered the phone in the room or if I’d have to go upstairs.

"He’d be fairly frank," adds Holden.

Advertisement

"He’d say, “Padraig was fairly useless yesterday”.

Clearly, Holden misses those chats now.

"That’s the kind of character he was. Even at the matches, lads would tell you they’d hear him shouting. He had a nice knack of waiting until after the initial reaction, live feedback was constant for us."

Patrick passed away last year, a couple of weeks before the Shamrocks won their fifth county title in a row and, having lost Patrick and so many others in their community over the last few years, Holden says that hurling gives them the chance to honour these people, and to bring joy to their families.

Advertisement

"I was only home three weeks (from travelling) and daddy passed away.

"When it comes to your own home in particular, it makes you realise how much it means to you and all these families. When you go out representing them, it gives you that extra push to do your best.

"The fact that hurling brought us home to say our goodbyes was very special. Then you have the motivation of all the people we have lost in the club."

Advertisement

As well as Patrick, the Shamrocks also lost Bobby Aylward their chairman, and past player Paul Shefflin during what was a grief-filled year for the club. Having beaten James Stephens in the county final, the team held up a photo, as you'll see above, with pictures of their fallen soldiers.

When the final whistle went that day, Holden said it was like an outpouring of emotion for everyone.

"We would have lost Bob Alyward who was chairman at the time. Mark, our sub goalkeeper is his son. Daddy would have been involved with the club and a former chairman. Paul Shefflin. Anniversary coming up on the fourth of March. That was a big blow. He was such a unique character, friends with everybody, so liked by everyone. He’s missed everywhere.

"I thought of all the people (at the final whistle) because there are so many connections on the team between all the different families.

"I suppose it opens up old wounds of losing the likes of Eugene and Eoin Doyle. We have been through a lot. Outside of hurling, there has been a lot of downs. Hurling keeps us on the up a bit. I think there is a special way to remember them when you can dedicate something to them."

Advertisement

In that sense, it brings a sense of perspective to your life and to your hurling but none-the-less, when it comes to games like this Sunday's AIB All-Ireland club final against Dunloy, Holden says that it still feels do or die.

"It’s everything to you at the time, but you go back and chat to your families and they will be there for you regardless of the result. That’s all that matters, but still, when you are on the field, it’s do-or-die in your own mind."

An influx of young players such as Niall Shortall, Killian Corcoran and Eoin Kenneally has also drove the Shamrocks on this year, and Holden told a story about Shortall, the zippy forward, that, in many ways, captures the spirit of this team.

"One little story about him, we were playing a Byrne Cup game against Bennetsbridge, and he came on and was just tearing around the field and flattened one of the bigger Bennettsbridge guys so you’re like ‘right, this lad has something about him.’

"I remember a few years ago too, when we were after losing a few, myself and Colin watched a minor A final, which the lads won, and we just got such a buzz thinking wow, we’ve these lads now coming along, so we have to maybe increase our standards with the seniors so that when them lads come in, they see the expectations."

They certainly did, and the young lads certainly have.

Joey Holden of Shamrocks Ballyhale, Kilkenny, pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Hurling Senior Club Championship Final, which takes place this Sunday, January 22nd at Croke Park at 1.30pm. Now in its 32nd year supporting the GAA Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile