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Three Months After WhatsApp Storm, Ballyragget Set For All-Ireland Final

Three Months After WhatsApp Storm, Ballyragget Set For All-Ireland Final
By PJ Browne Updated

It's not every year that you could walk up to a random person on the street, quiz them about who won that year's Kilkenny Intermediate Championship, and have the majority of people know the answer.

Ballyragget was a place on the lips of many a GAA fan and even non-GAA fans last October. The village hit the headlines after images from post-victory celebrations - featuring two strippers - landed in WhatsApp groups nationwide.

"That’s forgotten about," said Ballyragget captain Stephen Staunton at Croke Park on Wednesday. It's a venue to which he and his team will return this weekend for the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Championship final against Kanturk.

It’s in the past, we’ve moved on and we just want to prove ourselves on Saturday now. It wasn’t a distraction, no. It happened and it’s in the past so we’ll move on, so hopefully we can make up for it and bring a good spirit to the parish now next weekend.

Sunday will see a return to Croke Park for Staunton and the club six years after the St. Patrick's club defeated another Cork side, Charleville, in the All-Ireland junior final.

"It’s some feeling, being able to play with your club in Croke Park. It was a massive thing then and it’s a massive thing now. Lads might
be a little bit more relaxed this time around and we’re relishing it, really."

Staunton was just 19 at the time. The intervening six years saw the club suffer heartbreak in the Kilkenny IHC - four county final were lost in that time before last October's triumph.

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Kilkenny is tough in any grade. Junior is even hard to get out of.

From a young age - a lot of Kilkenny lads believe that hurling is the only thing that matters - we’re not great at football. A lot of lads just wake up with a hurl in their hand, you see Kieran’s College - it’s just a massive thing. It’s bet into lads.

That’s what lads want to do, and their lives revolve around it. I know it’s not the best way to go, but it just is a way of life.

The team's toughest game came early in the run to the All-Ireland final - the Kilkenny semi-final against a Tullaroan side featuring a trio of Walshes.

"They were probably the best team in that intermediate grade since they came down from senior. A lot of household names, Padraig, Tommy and Shane - all brothers. That semi-final win was massive for us and it really pushed us on.

“The experience brought us through to where we are now, past Graigue Ballycallan in the final. Glenealy were a super team in that Leinster final - maybe we were naive and maybe we didn’t deserve to win it, but hurling comes down to the last minute so you’ve to go to the last ball, and that late point came from a Kevin Kelly free. Thank God it came."

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The majority of the Ballyragget team are around 26 or 27 - prime hurling years.

There’s a great bond between the lads - like we’ve four brothers on the team in the Brennans who are a great hurling household. Paddy is the youngest of them and he’s only 19. He’s in college down in Waterford there, but he wasn’t involved in the panel last year.

I’d have great time for him because he’s put in a serious effort to get on the team in the county final and he’s kicked on. He’s a real workhorse, I’ve serious respect for him, because it’s not that easy coming into a team when lads are 26 or 27.

I’ve a lot of cousins on the team. We’re all best friends, we all went to school together and luckily we stuck together, no lads strayed too far.

This weekend, Staunton is well aware of the challenge his side faces against Kanturk.

"They’ve loads of household names, like you’ve Anthony Nash, Lorcan Mcloughlin, Aidan Walsh and his brothers. They’re a serious team, a serious physical team, but we’re relishing the challenge, because you know, the bigger the name, the harder they fall."

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Stephen Staunton of Ballyragget ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Club Championship Final against Kanturk taking place at Croke Park this Sunday 4th February. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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