Given their length of journey and now celebrated arrival the first thing heard from the Ballyhale Shamrocks dressingroom certainly isn’t of any complaint. That comes a little later and is all to do with the state of Croke Park.
Before all that manager Pat Hoban duly heaps praise on his players, most of which had just won a third All-Ireland hurling club title from four finals, and would have won four in succession had Ballygunner not stunned at the death of last year’s final.
Hoban, who took charge after last year’s defeat, may have been starting fresh only for everyone else there was clearly some baggage.
[ Kingpins Ballyhale Shamrocks finish strongly to reclaim the club summit ]
“An incredible win, nine All-Irelands in all? They’ve been unlucky in a couple of finals over the years as well so the character they’ve shown. It’s only February, 12 months ago, it’s very easy to talk of getting back there.
“But for these guys to actually do it just shows the character and their ability. An incredible group of players. To be fair to Dunloy, they really brought the battle. They got a great start. I think we found it hard to get our rhythm.
“Coming down the home straight, it was a bit too scary. The final scoreline flattered Ballyhale a lot. It’s very hard to keep up that level of intensity the whole time. But they have a switch. When they get focused, they are an incredible group of players. They know how to win matches and want to win matches.”
Eoin Cody’s 1-5 form play, after he moved into the full forward line, proved crucial, although at times the forward play of others appeared somewhat stifled by that state of the Croke Park playing surface.
Hoban clearly wasn’t impressed: “It’s definitely the worst condition we’ve seen it in. For an All-Ireland final, if that was the pitch you wouldn’t train on it. That’s being honest.
“Garth Brooks, whatever he did, I think they laid a new pitch after that and normally that pitch is like a carpet, but there’s no grass on it so it’s disappointing. It’ll probably on telly look like guys are fumbling and bad mistakes whereas, in fact, you’re rising it on tarmacadam, it’s in very, very, very poor condition.
“It’s the same for everyone, but it is unfortunately in poor nick for our premier pitch.”
Given Dunloy had them within striking distance going into the last 10 minutes, one point in arrears, only to lose by seven, manager Gregory O’Kane was understandably ruing of the outcome, though in no way of the effort of his players.
“Coming down the home straight, we under hit three or four balls near the end, dropped into the keeper’s hand,” he said. “Probably at that time when we were needing energy with a point in it, the game might have been level.
“It just turned on that there, the last two or three minutes of injury time lads are out on their feet. They are the inches, the millimetres, when you add them all up in an All-Ireland final that is the difference at the end.
“To be fair to Ballyhale, they cut out the space, they are brilliant at it. I couldn’t be more proud of my players, what they have given us. They will be sore, but we will go away. We are Dunloy, hurling is our life. It won’t change a thing, we will still be ready to play hurling come the first league match. That is what we do.”