‘We make no bones about it, this is a massive ask from our point of view’

A COUNTY FINAL day with a difference.

Abbeyside-Ballinacourty have grown accustomed to showings in football finals in Waterford.

Getting to sample county hurling final day is still something of a novelty so they will savour heading from their base in the eastern part of Dungarvan today, across the bridge and into Fraher Field in search of their first piece of senior championship silverware.

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“It’s absolutely incredible for us,” says chairman Mike Briggs.

“It’s only our sixth county final since 1927 and the last one was 2008, prior to that it was 1969. So It’s a massive week here for us no question about it.”

The club operate with a dual mandate, Abbeyside are the hurling wing, Ballinacourty are the football strand of the club.

In the last decade Ballinacourty have carried off three county titles and come up short in another four deciders. They face a last four football clash after today’s hurling decider, drawing from the same pool of players to put out teams in both flagship championships in Waterford.

The Ballinacourty squad before the 2007 Munster senior club football final.

“I landed here 22 years ago when we were senior football and intermediate hurling,” says Briggs.

“It’s a dual club, basically it was amalgamated in 1967. The strength of us is in terms of what we do and some people might say it doesn’t help from a hurling perspective if we play both at senior level.

“In our case we find if you take the current senior hurling panel, there’s only two lads involved in the football that are not involved in the hurling. That’d give you a flavour of it. It’s a deliberate policy of the club and everyone gets behind it. We’re playing The Nire in the football semi-final but we’ll worry about that one next week.”

Briggs is a Mount Sion man originally. Life and work took him to Galway and Limerick, where his children played football with Salthill-Knocknacarra and Monaleen.

When they landed in Dungarvan, Shane and Liam settled quickly to play with Ballinacourty. Liam is now in Sydney, Shane has a spell of service behind him with the Waterford senior footballers and will be on the sideline helping to direct operations for Abbeyside today. Before his daughter Niamh became better known in Irish rugby circles, she played ladies football locally.

Niamh Briggs in action for Ireland against Italy earlier this year.

Shane Briggs was a long-serving player fro the Waterford senior footballers.

“I’m from Waterford city, I get slagged down there about the fella from from Abbeyside and I get slagged up here as the fella from Mount Sion. I’m kind of lucky from the perspective, following in the footsteps of some really strong guys.

“When we landed here, there was a guy called Tony Mansfield who was kind of an icon within the club and he was chairman. He would basically have been the bedrock of the club. As the fella says, I’m only filling in for a couple of years. That man gave some service to this club, he really did. He passed on a few years back.”

If today is a standout moment for Abbeyside, it’s in stark contrast to their more illustrious opponents. Ballygunner are chasing the fabled five-in-a-row feat in terms of lifting silverware in Waterford. You have to go back to 2012 for the last time they were marked absent on Deise county final day.

Scan down through the years and since 1992 they have featured in 21 senior hurling deciders, departing with the crown of champions on 13 occasions. The scale of the challenge is apparent to Briggs.

“We make no bones about it, this is a massive ask from our point of view. I’m not going to talk us down because I honestly believe we have a very, very good team. I understand Ballygunner are going for five-in-a-row and they’re an exceptional team. But we’re hoping not to make it easy for them.”

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They’ve bolstered their team this year with a sprinkling of youth. A few minors have been drafted in. Conor Prunty and Neil Montgomery were both Waterford U21s this year. They still have a crew hanging around from the last final showing in 2008 against De La Salle and got one of them back fit and ready recently.

Neil Montgomery featured for the Waterford U21 side this summer.

“Richie Foley did his cruciate last year,” says Briggs.

“He’s only back with us in the last four to five weeks, which is a massive boost for us. He’s played for Waterford in Munster finals so for us it’s a massive boost. Go back to the 2008 team, John Hurney was there, Sean O’Hare, Patrick Hurney, there’s a good group of the guys who were there and basically felt the hurt. They’ve another opportunity now.”

Richie Foley is one of the survivors from Abbeyside’s last Waterford county final appearance.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

And they also have in their corner, the last man to oversee the defeat of Ballygunner on Waterford county final day. Peter Queally was in charge of Passage East when they snatched honours in dramatic fashion in 2013, now he’s at the helm for Abbeyside.

“He’s an exceptional guy,” says Briggs.

“He’s a good team behind him. We have Peter, Shane Briggs and Lawrence Hurney with him, they manage the hurling and the football so it’s all the same guys. Peter’s basically got them thinking.

“We’ve Mark McConnell in for the strength and conditioning. Under Peter they’re getting massive guidance, Peter has been there and done it. He hurled for Waterford at a very high level but he’s also very down to earth and grounded.”

Peter Queally celebrates with supporters after Passage won the 2013 Waterford decider.

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

That level of experience has been invaluable in trying to ready themselves for this final hurdle. After the joy of bettering De La Salle last time out, Briggs has witnessed Queally placing Abbeyside’s focus on the decider.

“This year is different because we’re getting breaks. It’s helped us. We’d all love to see Waterford getting to an All-Ireland and winning an All-Ireland, no question about it. But the reality is for us it’s been good because we’re getting the breaks in between games this year.

“It’s very hard if you’re out in the hurling to turn around and go back into the football. It’s helped us greatly and without that we’d certainly be under pressure.

“No question about it. You could almost call it a home game for us. The lads have been used from minor and U21 playing in the Fraher Field.

“After the euphoria of beating De La Salle by a point, we were all on a high and I think if we’d gone out last Sunday, it would have been difficult. The two weeks, he’s brought the whole thing back down to earth. He has them well grounded now at this stage.”

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