By Kieran Murphy
ST Mullins defender Garry Bennett is just one of many St Mullins players who this season raised their performance above anything they have ever produced before. He hardly envisaged playing in a Leinster final when the season kicked off with an easy first round championship win over Ballinkillen in Carlow.
“I was coming back from England and trying to get myself in proper order again. The effort lads put in. To lose lads like Paudie Kehoe, Darren Whelan and John ‘Farmer’ Murphy. We would never have seen ourselves here at the start of last year but a couple of young lads appeared on the scene and spirit was built over the year. It was some journey to be fair,” Bennett confirmed.
“We did ourselves proud and I was talking to a Ballyhale man there and he said it was the toughest game they got all year. That is a compliment considering the standard they are playing at,” he added.
The word “battle” is a much used word which crops up in pre-match dressing rooms and in post-match media reports. Selector Micheál Ryan brought a new meaning to the word when he took ill in the final minutes of his club’s opening Leinster championship game against Cuala. There were fears he wouldn’t make it as the medical staff tended to him in the stand of Netwatch Cullen Park.
“To be honest, it was unreal. The last thing I expected was to get a heart-attack,” said Micheál at O’Moore Park on Sunday. He quickly turned the attention to the players.
“Nobody expected us to beat Cuala. I always gave us a great chance and when you have Mouse Kavanagh and James Doyle in your team you have every chance,” he said.
At the start of the second half, James Doyle hit the outside of the post and within a minute, Ballyhale’s Colin Fennelly scored a goal. It was the match-defining moment for Ryan.
“A six-point turnaround was disappointing but these things happen. You cannot do anything about it. I am so proud of these boys. At the start of the year we knew we had been beaten in a county final the year before. Lads were away. Lads had retired and we wondered how we were going to replace them. A few young lads came in. A few of the older lads stood up again. It was unbelievable the way lads stood together to do what they have achieved.”
St Mullins manager Niall O’Donnell complimented his players.
“We came in here believing we could beat them. The opposition we were up against are a phenomenal team but ultimately we felt we could take them.
“There was a six-point swing. We hit the butt of the post and they came straight down and got a goal. I still believe if we were in a battle this team would have come out with a victory. All credit to Ballyhale. They are a savage team.”
Leinster finals don’t come around too often and O’Donnell knows this.
“From our point of view I am bitterly disappointed. We wanted to win and not come away saying we had a great effort, which we had. We realised the opposition was good but we didn’t fear opposition like that. We have some individuals who are savage hurlers, a team with great spirit and we want to build on that. We don’t want to rest on our laurels.”