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'We Don’t Have Anything Else. There’s No Gaelic Football Even In Clough-Ballacolla'

'We Don’t Have Anything Else. There’s No Gaelic Football Even In Clough-Ballacolla'

Leinster championship regrets, Willie Hyland has a few.

"We won our first [Laois] final in 2009 and we probably over-celebrated - we hadn’t won it in 91 years," says the Clough-Ballacolla midfielder.

That year, they played Westmeath's Clonkill in the quarter-finals, and lost by six points. "Clonkill are a very good club team," Hyland says, "but we probably didn’t put in the preparation we should have. And that side of the draw was probably easier that year, I think it was Tullamore in the semi-final. We look back now, and it was a time when we probably should have kicked on."

After their subsequent Laois title wins in 2011 and 2015, they suffered five and four-point defeats, both times to Oulart-The-Ballagh.

Their 2021 campaign has atoned for previous disappointments. In late November, the club won its first Leinster SHC tie when they beat Wexford champions Rapparees. That was followed by the weekend's victory over Kilmacud Crokes. It annoyed the Clough-Ballacolla players that they were rated 3/1 outsiders in a two-horse race. It turned out that the Dublin side could not handle the pace.

Hyland, now 33, is five years on from his inter-county retirement. He has arthritis in both hips and suffers stiffness after a match or tough training session.

"In my last year with Laois in 2016 my range of movement was being impinged," he says.

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"The final straw was a training camp we were on in Cork at Fota Island. We did about eight get togethers over the couple of days. I could only do two of them.

"Now you can say, okay, that's fine, let's manage his injury. But the other side of the thing is that every other county, the Clares, the Limericks, Corks, Waterford, if you're marking a fella, he's at a different level to you because you simply can't train as much as he can.

"Whereas at club level I've been lucky that I mightn't train as much as the rest of the lads, but if they go training I might go on the bike for an hour or something. I'd be very disciplined in regard to minding myself with flexibility work and recovery work and pool sessions and that.

"Obviously club level is less strenuous than inter-county so that's the reason. You can ask the lads, I don't be at the field as much as they are but they know the story with me."

willie hyland clough ballacolla ballyhale leinster hurling final 15 December 2021; Hurler Willie Hyland of Clough Ballacolla, Laois ahead of the AIB GAA Leinster Senior Hurling Championship final, which takes place at Croke Park on Sunday, December 19th and will see Clough Ballacolla face off against Ballyhale Shamrocks, Kilkenny. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
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Three weeks prior to the start of this year's Laois SHC, Clough-Ballacolla won the delayed 2020 final with victory over Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton, the same side they would beat in the 2021 decider. It was the end of a maddening time for the hurlers of both clubs.

"I can't begin to explain how frustrating it was, to be honest," says Hyland.

"The country is looking in at us because of the last two games and saying, 'God, Clough-Ballacolla are having a great time', but for 18 months it wasn't a great time.

"In 2020 like every other club we came back and had only a handful of trainings with Declan [Laffan] and were into lockdown. You're in lockdown and you're trying to encourage lads to do a bit of training themselves and to mind themselves. Personalised runs and gym programmes or whatever.

"We got back, we got a good head start, made a good start to the Championship in Laois, and then Laois, Offaly, and Kildare were locked down for a month. So, again, we were locked down and training on our own.

"Got back again, won the semi-final in Laois, and then trained well before the county final and felt we were in a really good place and then on the Monday we got word the GAA was being pulled.

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"We trained then for three months in 2020 up until the 10th of December with no word of any date whatsoever. You're probably asking why we trained? We trained because the match could potentially have been on St. Stephen's Day. That was the talk in the county at the time.

"Fast forward then that lockdown lasted longer than expected. You're into 2021 and you're looking for a date for the 2020 final. Up until May/June we had no date for the final.

"There was an awful lot of training. You're trying to plan for different things. Trying to periodise your training. We just couldn't get a date.

"Obviously, it happened in August, and it was worth waiting for you could say. Up to that, it was a very, very frustrating time. It was very hard to prepare a team, very hard to plan anything, The last four months have made up for it."

willie hyland clough ballacolla ballyhale leinster hurling final 27 November 2021; Willie Hyland of Clough-Ballacolla takes a free during the AIB Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship quarter-final against Rapparees at MW Hire O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
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This weekend, their journey continues when they face reigning All-Ireland champions Ballyhale in the Leinster final at Croke Park.

"I'm only a passenger on this team now, I'm getting on," says Hyland.

"I'm delighted to be out there. But I get more of a buzz from seeing family, friends and neighbours in Croke Park.

"We're a small little area. To see our people go to Croke Park on Leinster final day is just a hugely proud moment for me and all the lads.

"From our point of view, we don’t have anything else. We don’t have soccer, rugby, athletics. There’s no Gaelic football even in Clough-Ballacolla. We have a handball club, that’s about it.

"So if we have a young fella at nine or 10, the chances are he’ll still be hurling at 18. Whereas if you’re in a city or town club, there are other distractions, other sports. It’s more about what else is available for kids of that age, and we’re lucky that we hold on to our lads.

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"You see every GAA club has diehards, we have some diehards who probably have never been past the Red Cow. So to see everyone going to Croke Park is just an amazing feeling for everybody.

"It's not about me or anybody else playing in Croke Park. It's about our community and being able to make everybody in the parish proud. I think everybody is going on Sunday so it's a great occasion."

Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

This year's AIB Club Championships celebrate #TheToughest players in Gaelic Games - those who are not defined by what they have won, but by how they persevere no matter what - and this Sunday's showdown is set to be no exception.

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willie hyland clough ballacolla ballyhale leinster hurling final

PJ Browne
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