BY TOM LYONS
NEWCESTOWN have learned their lessons from last year’s county PIHC final loss to Ballyhea, according to two of the club’s key players.
This time last year there was fierce excitement in the run-up to the county final, but both captain John Crowley and Eoin Kelly admit mistakes were made, but that they won’t be repeated this year.
‘There was a lot of hype around the place. Probably too much at the time. We got caught up in it without realising it,’ said experienced full back John Crowley, who has 19 seasons under his belt.
‘Ballyhea were all over us in the first half, got a goal and tacked on a few points. They were six ahead at half time and we just couldn’t pull it back in the second half. They were a fine hurling team and proved it in senior this year when beating Blackrock but, yes, we definitely let the hype get to us.’
‘There’s a big difference in the build-up this year,’ agreed ace score-getter Eoin Kelly.
‘Now it’s just another round of the championship, another game, rather than all the hype we had last year. We got caught up in that, unfortunately.
‘We’re trying hard to separate ourselves from the hype this season. Supporters can get carried away if they want but we’ll concentrate totally on the game itself this time.’
Newcestown have beaten Tracton twice (round one and quarter-final), Blarney and Mallow to get back to the county PIHC final, and they now face a Valley Rovers team that have taken the long road to this stage. Kelly is well aware of the challenge that Valleys pose.
‘We haven’t played Valleys in hurling this year. They’re in a different league than us,’ Kelly said.
‘A couple of years ago they beat us in premier football and went on to win the county but last year we beat then in the hurling. They’re flying this year, on a real roll, and they beat us by double scores in the senior football league.
‘They’re tough and everybody is talking about their physicality. They completely outmuscled us in the football. But we’re not thinking too much about them, we’re just trying to get our own game right for the day.
‘Last year we just didn’t play in the final, didn’t perform, and we’re determined that won’t happen again on Sunday. Huge respect for Valleys, yes, this is their eighth game in the championship and any team that comes into a final with that many games under their belt is battle-hardened.
‘We went to school with a lot of those lads. Kevin Canty won an All-Ireland when I was in first year in Brogan’s and you’d look up to lads like that. But it’s different now.’
For veterans like Crowley, who have soldiered with the club for almost two decades, a county title at this level and promotion to the senior ranks would be the stuff of dreams.
‘It’s easy for me to keep going,’ Crowley said.
‘There’s a great bunch of lads involved now and I’ve been doing it so long now, I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise.
‘County hurling titles aren’t too plentiful in the club. We won the junior in 1993 and followed with the U21 the following year but we haven’t won anything since. We went up premier intermediate when that grade was formed and have won a couple of league titles but no championship.
‘Last year’s final was our first in this grade. We were intermediate in the 1970s and ’80s too, so it’s a long time to be trying to win something in this grade. We lost a few semi-finals along the way and last year’s final defeat was a huge disappointment.’
Kelly added that the club’s tradition plays a big role in inspiring the current team too.
‘When we were young, we would have heard of heroes like Mackey Collins and, more lately, Pat Kenneally, John Wilson and Jim O’Sullivan. I had the pleasure of playing with those lads when I came on the scene first,’ Kelly explained.
‘You’d learn a lot from fellas like them, the spirit they brought to it, the fight they showed in games. This is actually my eighth year on the team, so I’m becoming one of the veterans now at 24.’
Both Crowley and Kelly hold the same hope for 2016 – to play senior hurling with Newcestown.
‘I’ve no intention of retiring yet,’ said Crowley, ‘and as long as the body keeps going and I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep going. It would be nice to sample senior hurling with the club before I pack it up.’
Kelly added: ‘Training next year for two senior championships? I’d love it. That would be a dream come true for us but we’re not going down that road yet as there’s Sunday to deal with first. It’s total concentration on that for now.’