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All Ireland club semi finals. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all of that. You can watch all the video you want. Flipcharts, clip boards, GPS units. Food every night after training. Hydration, physio. A Guest speaker or two. Challenge matches and inhouse games. But when the ball is thrown in, well to paraphrase General Patton, no plan survives contact with the enemy. It is the strongest and most resilient that will survive. As Patton also said. Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory. It’s a great place to win and a cruel place to lose.
Two All Irelands, eight Munsters; 77 All Ireland medals won with Kerry; 13 Kerry senior football championships; 5 Kerry senior club champions, 2 joint All Ireland winning captains of Kerry in 2014 with Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O'Leary. And one Gooch Cooper. There’s no doubt the Gooch can still pull strings with the club. If the Mullinalaghta
The walk into Croke park, the cavernous spaces behind the stands. That’s where you see the famous players stepping off the bus on All Ireland day isn’t it. Off the bus. Into the dressing room. Heroes, just for one day. Strapped. Rubs. Pull on the club jersey, a quick glance at the badge. Familiar since you started playing all those years ago. Bit of ballwork in the warm up room to kill the nerves and butterflies in your gut. Last few words. Passion. Pressure. Some tears maybe, then it’s out the door, a turn, down the tunnel and there you are. Croke Park. All Ireland club final day. The noise. Glare. The green of the pitch and the height of the stands. Towering. What dreams are made of.
A free deep into stoppage time brings Kilcummin to Croker edging home by the barest minimum against Two Mile House. They become the 11th club from the Kingdom coming to Croke Park for a junior final since 2002 and here is a symmetry.
Winter spent on a hurling field. A gym. On the wall. On the bus. In the alley. Off the beer. Dry January? No big deal if you’ve a match on the horizon. You have to brace yourself. A crisp night will add a sting to any sliotar. Drive them over the bar til’ you find one that suits. Christmas? Where did that go. There’s plenty of Christmases when you’re finished. The familiar craic on the bus. Maybe a box set on the DVD player. Love/Hate anyone? Laden with water. Fruit. A few bars. The craic is good. The lads are on form. And the hurling? The hurling’s why we’re here. You might get a crack at an All-Ireland semi every few years if you’re lucky. Could be a one off. All that work. All that time. All that effort. For one hours hurling. You wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ballygunner. Seventeen years ago, the club’s only previous All-Ireland semi-final ended in a loss
There’s a sound the sliotar makes hitting the wall in the warm up room in Croke Park. A cross between a click and a wet slap. As the balls are driven off the wall, occasionally they come into rhythm with one another, then out of sync. The sound fills the room, echoes until another puc takes over. Right side. Left side. Driving the butterflies and nerves off the blank wall. The Sliotar seam leaves a black mark like a sharpie stroke on the white wall. Poc. Poc. Poc. Get the eye in. the touch in. Before you step back into the changing room and a different noise overtakes you. A smell of liniment and Rub. The taste of a sports drink. The feel of ash and sliotar on palm. A table laden with water, fruit and juices. Pulling on the club jersey. Same as so many times before. But this time its different. Croke Park.
Kilkenny playing Monaghan in a hurling All Ireland final. Sure that’s only going to end one way, on paper anyway. Just