Ballylinan making an impact in Laois again
By Cian O'Connell
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Ballylinan manager Paul Julian remarks about the club’s last appearance in a Laois Senior Football Final 30 years ago. “My father was Chairman, he was heavily involved at the time. I can remember them training, going up in the evenings to watch them training and going to matches.”
It was a time when Ballylinan were utterly relevant in the Laois SFC. Portlaoise might have administered a sound beating in that decider, but Ballylinan’s story was about the journey. A similar adventure is taking place now with Julian spearheading a remarkable drive for glory in 2017.
Once more the aristocratic Portaloise await at O’Moore Park, but Julian, who only retired from playing duties a few years ago is delighted to be involved in a managerial role now. “It is great when you are in a County Final,” Julian admits.
“Look, I knew what was there, I know the players, I played with most of them and had trained them at Under 21. I knew what was there and what was coming.
“I played up until two years ago when I finished up. I was a selector then for a couple of years with Gary Kavanagh, but when Gary went in with Laois this year I was asked would I try to kick it on again. So I said I would. I knew what was there.”
Julian merely sensed that something was about to stir in Ballylinan, who he feels are beginning to deliver on their potential. “I did, anybody closely involved, you'd take great heart from what you have there with you,” he states.
“We have been getting to quarter-finals, but we have probably been underachieving. The younger lads from a few years ago are now at the age where they are leaders.
“They are taking it on, driving it on, the few older lads are blending in with them. They are almost coming of age, chaps are coming into young men.”
Ballylinan were keen to make an impact in Division 1B of the Laois Senior Football League. “We had a good run in the League, we only lost three games in the League and we rectified the three of them by beating the teams that beat us in the League in the Championship,” Julian comments.
“We had a good run in the League and it was important because we set out our stall at the start of the year to win in the League and that is what we did.”
Reaching the Laois showpiece is a fitting reward for the diligent work being carried out throughout Ballylinan. “It is great for the club, we are only a small club here, but we have a big heart,” Julian acknowledges.
“There is a great community spirit around the club. Anybody that has been asked to do anything for us they have gone out of their way, jerseys, bibs, food, bunting, flags - anything.
“It is great for the community. At the end of the day the players can't get sucked into that. It is our job to keep our end of it separate to that. We can't control what goes on outside of it, we have to control what we can control that is the players and our own environment.”
Significant links exist with the 1987 outfit according to Julian. “There is, I was 9 at the time, my father was the Chairman,” Julian recalls.
“There is a lot of families and history in the club with relations and fathers. I can remember it all, I can remember the day of it, a great occasion. It was great for the club at the time. I remember going over with flags and hats, the usual.
“Eamon Lacey is a selector with me, he would have played half back that day 30 years ago. Kieran Kelly is a selector, he was captain of a Laois minor team 20 years ago. He is with me too, we have Pat Cuddy doing strength and conditioning. Jimmy Hovenden is a kitman with us, he would have played midfield that day, so we are all heavily linked to it, and we have a good crew around us.”
That is certainly the case for Ballylinan with Julian delighted by how his team continues to develop. “We are a very small club, but we have players coming of age,” Julian adds.
“They have been there or thereabouts for the last couple of years. I know people on the outside mightn't see that, but anybody that has been involved closely with the group of players knows the potential they had. It is great for them.
“We have a great set of players coming through, our underage set-up is strong. If you go down any Friday evening you'd see Under 6, 8, 10, 12s all training there, they are driving the older lads in a sense.”
Such spirit and resilience meant Ballylinan always dreamed of becoming a force in Laois. A revealing hour spent in the company of a decorated Portlaoise team beckons.
“It is a game of football - possession and scores, you can't get too bogged down in it either; you just have to keep focused on what it is about,” Julian says. The prize is mighty, but Ballylinan will relish this challenge.