Ardmore enjoying the journey on the road to salvation
By John Harrington
14 months ago, the hurlers of Ardmore were in the pits of despair.
A senior club as recently as 2014, two relegations in the space of three years had seen them drop down to the junior grade in Waterford.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a team that certainly didn’t lack for quality players.
Seamus and Declan Prendergast had both won four Munster Senior Hurling Championships with Waterford; Richie, Wayne, and Niall Hennessy had all played senior inter-county football and were very talented hurlers too; while Seamus Keating is a member of the current Waterford hurling panel.
It seemed unthinkable they’d go from senior to junior in three years, but when you find yourself in a hole you can either keep digging or climb your way out.
Ardmore went for the second option. Everyone involved with the team made the collective resolve to give it everything they have and since then they’ve been crowned Waterford and Munster Junior Hurling Champions and are now 60 minutes away from winning an All-Ireland title.
So when Declan Prendergast looks back on the journey that has brought them to Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Club Junior Hurling Final against Fethard of Wexford, he now views those ‘disastrous’ relegations in a new light.
“I suppose back in November last year after getting relegated it was all doom and gloom in the club,” said Prendergast.
“It was probably one of the worst things that could ever happen, we thought.
“But I suppose looking back in hindsight now, all this would never have happened had we not been relegated. It was a great thing for the club really because it's after bringing in more people into the club.
“The mother does be seeing the lotto tickets for the club and they're selling a lot easier now. It's all good. When you're winning everyone wants to be a part of it.
“We had a few tough years when we didn't win much. I suppose there were a lot of lads coming and going and different things and I suppose this is after bringing them all back in together.
“There's a few younger lads coming up now as well and it's doing them good too.”
The Ardmore team is an interesting mix of youth and experience.
Prendergast is just one of a large group of committed veterans in their late thirties, and then much of the rest of the panel is populated by teenagers and young men in their early twenties.
“Yeah, there's no-one in the middle,” said Prendergast. “There's a big group of older lads and then a good group of younger lads coming through. We're lucky I suppose to have a bit of experience as well as youth.
“Myself and Seamus and Wayne and Richie and Niall (Hennessy) and James O'Donnell, there's a good few lads there who have probably given 20 years with the senior team which is a long time.
“We all grew up together and won a lot together underage too which I suppose is what kept us all going.
“I'll be 37 in a couple of weeks. Sure, look, you play it for as long as you can because you'll be long enough looking in at it. That's our motto, anyway.”
There might be something of a generational divide in the Ardmore dressing-room, but they proved beyond all doubt they are a very united bunch when they defeated Ballybacon-Grange in the Munster Final despite having three players red-carded.
“I suppose we put the challenge on ourselves,” said Prendergast. “It wasn't really a dirty game, I don't think there was really a dirty belt in the game, three of our own sent off, two in the first half.
“I suppose it looked like a killer blow. Maybe Ballybacon thought they had nothing to do only to come out in the second-half and win the game when we were down two men.
“But I suppose every fella dug a little bit deeper and we just got the scores at the right time, goals at the right time. It was a nice one to win, that way.
“The younger lads rose to the challenge and it was nice to see that too.”
Prendergast won four Munster Championships and one National League with Waterford, but he’s adamant that those achievements would be put in the shade if Ardmore were crowned All-Ireland champions on Sunday.
“We had some great days with Waterford, but if we could get over this one on Sunday it would be one of the greatest days of my life ever,” he said.
“Winning with you club means everything. It's with the lads you've grown up with and with who you've hurled all of your life.
“When you play inter-county you play there for 10 or 12 years but that's only parked in the middle of your career because you start with your club and you finish with your club. The club is everything. It would be just unreal to have an All-Ireland medal.
“Back in 2012 when I retired from hurling with Waterford I thought I'd never again be back as a player in Croke Park. Come Sunday, it'll be hell for leather.”
“It would be the best ever if we could win it. Especially with your own club-mates walking up the steps with you and your own family and everyone from home there.
“It would be just unbelievable.”