For a club that hasn't won a Munster hurling title in 14 years – and their only one at that – Sunday's final couldn't have come at a worse time. Not only are Ballygunner missing their two star players in Pauric and Philip Mahony, but their opposition boast an impeccable provincial record.
Although a foregone conclusion it most certainly is not: Ballygunner have already upset the odds by beating Cork' Glen Rovers in their semi-final (out-scoring them 0-16 to 1-1 in the second half), and the Waterford champions come loaded with special incentive.
Standing in their way are Na Piarsaigh, the Limerick club who were Munster champions in 2011 and again in 2013, and have yet to lose a single match in the province. Indeed one of the teams they beat along the way in 2011 was Ballygunner, and that, says Pauric Mahony, is just part of their incentive in Thurles on Sunday.
“Yeah, we were very disappointed after that game, because we were in a great position,” says Mahony. “We were eight points up at half-time and we were eight points up with 15 minutes to go. Then Shane (Dowling) got two goals, turned the game around. So we’d hope that we’ve learned from the last few years in Munster.
“I wouldn’t say we were caught on the hop. Things like that happen in the blink of an eye. We were in a great position and all of a sudden we were chasing the game with five minutes to go. So we’d be hoping on Sunday that we get out of the blocks fairly quick and then maintain that for the 60 minutes.”
Mahony, however, will be watching from the sideline, still recovering from the broken shin bone sustained in a club match last May – forcing him out of Waterford’s entire championship campaign. His brother Philip will be watching from the sidelines too, as he’s suspended following a straight red card in that win over Glen Rovers.
“It’s tough, very tough actually, when you’re not playing,” says Pauric Mahony. “When it’s your club, it’s even more difficult than intercounty, because with the county you are only ever really one or two games away from a Munster final. But at club level it is a long road to get to a Munster final.
“And growing up with these lads, all of your life. They’re going out on the field on Sunday, and you can’t help then. That’s very tough, but I suppose at this stage I have been out for a few months, missed a lot of hard games, I’m probably used to it at this stage. I’m just looking forward now to next year, and trying to get back on the field myself.”
Mahony hasn’t put a date on that comeback, although if Ballygunner win on Sunday, their All-Ireland semi-final next February would certainly be a target. Yet the nature of his injury – a complete break of tibia – meant spending three full months on crutches, and only now is he getting back on his feet.
“I don’t have a timeframe yet for when I’m going to be back. But look, if we were to win on Sunday, it would certainly be a big incentive over the next couple of months to train hard. I’ve been back doing a bit of jogging since last week. It takes a couple of days to recover then after the run, but I think the worst of it is well gone at this stage, so I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Not that he expected his brother Philip to be on the sideline on Sunday too: he was sent off for striking in a 25-man melee in the first half of that semi-final.
“I haven’t really looked back at it, but I suppose he (Philip) was maybe just the unlucky one, that was picked out. These things happen. You just have to get on with it and I suppose he’s in the same position as myself now, just hoping we can get over Sunday and maybe be back for an All-Ireland semi-final.
“But it will be unusual. Philip more so than myself, over the last five or six years, has been keeping the team together at times. Certainly this year we wouldn’t have won the championship without him, he was the real leader of the team, got us over the line in most cases. So it is going to be a huge task on Sunday without him but the most impressive thing about our semi-final win was that when he was gone off that other fellas stood up and took on that leadership role. It is going to have to be the same on Sunday.”
One further point of incentive: their father and three uncles all played on the Ballygunner team that won Munster in 2001. “I suppose there’s something hanging over the present team, that we have to win one to prove ourselves to be as good as that team,” says Mahony. Sunday will reveal all.