Carrickshock and Clara daring to dream as Kilkenny hosts a novel senior hurling final
Victory in Sunday’s decider would crown a momentous year for either club
Clara’s Lester Ryan and Keith Hogan tackle PJ Rowe of St Gabriel’s (London) in last year’s AIB All-Ireland intermediate hurling final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Richie Power: one of the Kilkenny stars hoping to win a first Kilkenny SHC title with Carrickshock. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
In Kilkenny, a senior county medal can be the most elusive prize of all. When Clara and Carrickshock parade around Nowlan Park in tomorrow’s showpiece, it will mark an afternoon for their players and supporters that in a strange way will be more rare and unexpected than the All-Ireland days they have enjoyed.
Both teams will feature players who have enjoyed exceptional days for their county but for whom a senior championship was, until now, a distant and near unattainable ambition.
Clara’s story is faintly magical on the surface: relegated from senior entirely in 2011, they got their act together and won both the county and All-Ireland intermediate titles before carrying their form by winning this year’s league and now booking a place in the senior championship final.
Clara, still surviving as a country parish just beyond the streetlights of Kilkenny city, were county champions just once before, in 1986.
Carrickshock has provided such a steady supply of excellent hurlers to Kilkenny county teams that it hardly seems possible that they haven’t won a senior title since 1951. So whatever the result, the occasion will end with new bonfires. Richie Power Snr has three sons playing for Carrickshock and despite a garlanded career in black and amber which brought All-Irelands and All Stars, he admits that just the thought of seeing his club finishing the day as champions is incomparable.
“Jamie, John and Richie are playing, yeah. Look it, it would be the greatest day of my hurling life time. I was lucky enough to win All-Irelands with Kilkenny, yes. But I reckon this would surpass anything I achieved. This would be the ultimate as far as I’m concerned. A lot of people that have worked fierce hard to keep the club going – and I have seen the club in bad places over the years so there was a group there who kept it going when it was maybe easier to turn your back and walk away. But it would be phenomenal if we could get the right result on Sunday.”
Power hurled in 10 intermediate semi-finals for Carrickshock without ever making the breakthrough to senior level.
In 1982, they made it to the intermediate final where they met tomorrow’s opponents.
“Clara beat us by four points. It was a bad day for myself because I got a bad hand injury. We had a strong intermediate team then but we could just never make the breakthrough. We were close.”
Clara capitalised on their progression to senior by winning that lone title in 1986. But they couldn’t sustain the success. When Richie Mulrooney arrived as principal of Clara national school in 1997, some of the pupils there were the children of that title-winning side. Mulrooney claims he was lucky to come along when there happened to be a group of marvellous hurlers coming up in the school.
Along with John Bolger, they started coaching a special group of youngsters. They lost a Roinn C final in 1998 with a team including Shane and Neil Prendergast and Austin Murphy, the team captain tomorrow. Lester Ryan was in sixth class when they won the C competition in 1999 and it was clear that the school team was going to be exceptionally strong in the years afterwards.
“So we did something that was never really done in the history of that competition,” Mulrooney says. “We applied to skip the Roinn B altogether.”