Ballyea go in search of provincial glory this afternoon when they go toe to toe with Cork champions Glen Rovers.
On one hand you have a team that have won two All-Ireland club titles and on the other you have Ballyea, a club that refuses to go by the script and isn’t beaten until the final whistle as has been evident in their remarkable 2016 run.
Paul Flanagan is one of seven players that have played every minute in this year’s championship from their Clare SHC Round One defeat to Éire Óg all the way to their victory over Thurles Sarsfields two weeks ago.
Captain of the All-Ireland winning Clare U21 team in 2013, Flanagan admits that Ballyea’s exploits are as enjoyable as what he has achieved with the county. “People were asking ‘is it as good as what you’ve achieved with Clare?’, and it’s every bit as good. It means an awful lot and when you’re with your own – it really means everything.”
There is a tight-knit bond amongst this group according to the Clare senior hurling panellist. Players would feel guilty if they missed a session and crucially everyone bought into the setup this year. “We enjoyed going hurling but we enjoyed it even more going hurling with each other, and we knocked good fun out of it. Lads bought into that, and you feel you’d be letting someone down if you weren’t there.
“But make no mistake, we’d be the same as any other club. We had to sit down last year and wonder why lads aren’t training or what’s the issue or what do we do with communication? We’re the same as any other small club”.
Coming up through the underage ranks players like Gearoid O’Connell, Jack Browne and Tony Kelly amassed a nice collection of medals, this has been a big factor in boosting the belief of players who haven’t been lining out at inter-county level. “We’d a good aul side there growing up and lads kept together. We enjoyed what we were doing and it just built from there – there was a bit of a loyalty to each other”.
An Irish and PE teacher in Ard Scoil Rís in Limerick, Paul is aware Munster Finals don’t come around every day and is hopeful Ballyea can do Co Clare proud in Semple Stadium. “You don’t get these opportunities too much and it’s something we’ve never had before. It’s great to be in another final, it’s the third one in five weeks so we intend to make the most out of it.”