Brendan McTaggart speaks with Ballyhale manager Pat Hoban as they prepare for Sunday’s All-Ireland Final against Dunloy. Hoban is a vastly experienced manager having led Kilkenny to All Junior and Minor success
The Mullinavat native in his first year in charge of Ballyhale, Pat Hoban has been entrusted with one of, if not thee biggest club job in Ireland. Coming into a side who had won four Kilkenny championships on the spin and with the Shamrocks entering their 50th year, the pressure was on from the word go for Hoban but he’s answered everything that has come his way….
Including a phone call from us.
“I suppose we’re in a bit of a unique situation where we have no one from Ballyhale in our backroom team. I have Niall Lacey and James Maher, we did try to bring in someone with first-hand connections with the club but it didn’t materialise.
“It was never a deal breaker however. I’ve been in charge of Kilkenny Intermediate hurling sides, with the minors for a few years but look Kilkenny’s a small county in hurling terms. Everyone has a fair idea of what’s happening in each club and I suppose my own knowledge of the minor set up for a number of years gave me a good idea of Ballyhale as a whole.”
Having tasted defeat to Ballygunner in last years All-Ireland Final, Hoban gave us an insight into the Shamrocks psyche when he took over in February 2022: “They were all obviously very disappointed with how that game transpired so we were in no rush to get everyone back. But this was always going to be a huge year for the club, regardless of what happened last year. It’s the 50th year of their existence and a chance to make a little piece of history of their own by winning five in a row. Something that had never been achieved in the county before.”
Having won their 20th Kilkenny crown, the Shamrocks are looking to bring the Tom Moore Cup back to Ballyhale for the ninth time. Their pedigree can never be questioned. Hoban said that he sees improvement in his side during their run through Leinster: “We were too strong for Castletown before playing a strong Naas side in the semi-final. That was a competitive game and stood by us.”
Their game against Kilmacud Crokes was the one that caught the eye for most, given how Hoban’s side blew the Dublin men away in the first half before having to weather a storm to seal the Leinster title. Hoban said that it felt like his side had to win the game twice: “It was a bizarre game that’s for sure but what most people didn’t realise was the weather had a huge impact on the game. They hit us with a sucker punch and we took our eye off the ball for 10 or 12 minutes and they scored something like 1-7 or 1-8 in that time but I thought my lads showed plenty of character to dig that one out in the end.”
As fate would have it, Hoban led his team to the All-Ireland semi-final and a chance to avenge their defeat to Ballygunner. With many tipping the Waterford men to reach the final again, the Shamrocks proved they are still the team to beat. Hoban added: “What happened in last years final hurt this side. We never had any issue with Ballygunner, it was more how the final went last year. But this game was very similar in that the game was in the balance right up to the final whistle.”
With the fixtures calendar meaning a break between the semi-final and final that included the Christmas holiday period, Hoban told us it was something he and his backroom team welcomed: “We had a couple of knocks from the Ballygunner game so to have a bit of a break was ideal and for the lads who’ve been involved with the county as well, it was perfect. It’s a year round season for them now so to have some time off with family and friends was ideal.
“It’s been tough with the weather down this part of the country. It’s been hugely challenging to get pitches and it’s more challenging at this time of year but look you’d rather have this problem than wish you had this problem.”
The Shamrocks come into the final as hot favourites to take a ninth club All-Ireland crown back to Ballyhale. Hoban said he is wary of the test Dunloy will bring on Sunday, saying the Cuchullains bring a style of play that’s very difficult to play against: “We didn’t take too much notice of it on the day, we had our own semi-final to worry about but look it was a big win for them against a side Ballyhale struggled against last year and when you consider they overcame Slaughtneil who pushed Ballyhale to the pin of their collar a few years back, they are a dangerous, dangerous side.
“In Kilkenny it would be a more traditional style of hurling. But with Dunloy, you can see there’s lots of those guys who play football as well. They play a possession type of game, similar to Kilmacud where they have runners off the shoulder and support play. That type of thing is very hard to come up against.”
There is no such thing as surprise packages anymore. In the digital world we live in and the wider hurling circles, Hoban has his homework done on the Cuchullains. He added: “Off course I’ve watched them. Against Cushendall, Slaughtneil and St Thomas. I’d like to think I have my homework done but look I was speaking with the Thomas’ lads after their game and they thought they had their homework done too.
“A bit like ourselves in that they’ve won four Antrim championships in a row, five in six years. That type of thing breeds confidence. They have five or six lads in the Antrim set-up and have a forward unit that are flying. Defensively they’re very strong as well, we know they are a serious outfit and fully aware of the dangers they will bring to the game on Sunday.”