*Tony Kelly. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Ballyea are buoyed by the presence of their key men as they fine-tune preparations for their opening outing of the Clare senior hurling championship, it’s an experience they haven’t been used to.
Management: Kevin Sheehan (manager), Barry Coffey (coach), Mike O’Neill, Jacko Griffin.
Captain: Tony Kelly
Most Recent: (2018)
Key Player: Tony Kelly
Fresh Blood: Stephen Casey
Fun Fact: Ballyea were eliminated in the quarter-final each year after winning the quarter-final. They will be hoping their trend of winning the championship every second year continues.
Ordinarily, Ballyea would be without several of their go-to leaders for the bulk of their training block before the first round due to county commitments. It has always been the way since Tony Kelly and Paul Flanagan joined the Clare senior panel in 2012, Jack Browne two years later not to mention their involvement with U21 teams around that period.
Manager Kevin Sheehan admitted that the regular presence of the trio has lifted the entire atmosphere and application at trainings. “It has definitely added another dimension, the relentless level they train at all the time is beginning to rub off on our lads and having them there has been hugely positive, it’s been excellent”.
Challenge matches have been played against Ahane, Gort, Newtownshandrum and Turloughmore in advance of the weekend. “We got a good fist of everything in those, we were happy with how they went, high quality matches with plenty of eagerness to get out, there was plenty of mistakes, bangs, belts and bruises but all and all it was good to get out, we were happy enough with what we saw,” Sheehan said.
A handful of players are expected to overcome slight injuries, Brian Carrig a constant part of their defence is ruled out for the weekend.
2020 would have marked the first year in the history of the club that they competed in Division 1A of The Clare Cup. It had been viewed by the management team as an opportunity to bring the entire panel up to a higher standard.
“It would have been ideal. Last year we felt we came up a little bit short and we had things to find and figure out, to be honest we started with the U21s in late November to give them a serious go and try build them in for the Clare Cup, it all fell down around us but that was no fault of anyone, we were all on the same boat,” the 2016 championship winning goalkeeper stated.
Indeed for Sheehan it was a case of putting down the goalkeeper hurleys to instead don the bainisteoir bib. He answered the call to fill the vacancy as senior manager and became a championship winning boss in his first season back in 2018.
He outlined that the presence of capable netminders has made life away from playing that bit easier. “There’s some times you would miss it for definite, there’s the odd game that you’d love to have been in the mix but on a personal level it was almost an answer to the call to go as a goalkeeper, I played a lot outfield and then picked up a serious back injury. It didn’t feel like it was a ten year career at senior hurling itself, maybe it was the right thing to do, we’re lucky to have Barry Coote and Oisin Hennessy, they are at a fairly high level, Oisin Griffin is coming after them and he’s one to watch”.
Sheehan highlighted that the management team and support from club officials makes the task much easier. “They are an incredible bunch to deal with, the hardest point at times is just putting it altogether, that hasn’t been an issue this year. The more experienced guys are a pleasure to deal with, they drive things on, it’s just a matter of facilitating everything to get it right”.
Crusheen eliminated the men in Black and Amber from last year’s championship. “Last year I don’t think we got going to the level we wanted to for different reasons that we couldn’t put our finger on. We came up against a team on that day that was much more up for the battle and deservedly took it, we’ve a lot to find to get to that pitch, they have some serious hurlers from new lads to older statesmen, they will be a huge test and with regard to the format it is absolutely ideal,” the manager reflected.
Training under the watchful eyes of Barry Coffey has been lifted by the constant presence of their main men, their standards have risen which bode very positively for Ballyea.