Flanagan relishing Ballyea's dramatic rise
By Cian O'Connell
For a long time hope sustained Ballyea. The promise of brighter days, that a new wave of talent could bring trophies and glory.
These are truly special times for Ballyea, who are set to contest another AIB Munster Club decider against Ballygunner following a fourth Clare title since 2016.
Paul Flanagan smiles when reminded that it wasn't always like this. "There was a time in 2014, we called a players meeting," Flanagan recalls. "Ballyea, we are a small club. Ballyea came from the junior ranks, we competed in our first senior final in 2003 against neighbours Clarecastle.
"We were a younger group coming forward and we met together in the Ballyea field in 2014 and I’d say five or six guys showed up."
A brief, but important discussion took place. "Stan Lineen, who plays midfield for us now, his car at the time was a Toyota Corolla, the purple coloured one," Flanagan adds. "We gathered at the field and we were all able to fit into Stan’s car, it was cold and we had the team meeting in Stan’s car."
One of the benefits, though, was the willingness to try to improve. "We just wanted higher standards for ourselves and that’s where the approach to Robbie Hogan came from and we moved from there," he says. "We wanted more as a group. That was the start of it and we’re a long way from there now."
Hogan's influence has been significant. "He’s so honest and humble," Flanagan says.
The local knowledge and passion for the club is critical too. "I find Robbie being from Ballyea as well, he’s a stone throw from Ballyea’s field," Flanagan states.
"You’d describe him as a really good friend at this stage. A guy who looks out for you not only on the hurling field, but definitely off it.
"He’s a tiler by trade and he’s hoping to tile my house in the new year and we’ve been talking about that and trying to figure out bits and pieces. He’s one of those genuine guys, he’s given his heart and soul to us and we’re privileged to have him."
Ballyea waited and wondered for so long, but in 2016 they found a way to prevail in Clare. It was a journey that ended in a Croke Park AIB All-Ireland club final appearance the following spring.
The intervening years have brought painful and pleasant days. A heavy loss to Ballygunner in Munster hurt, but Ballyea continue to demonstrate resilience. Flanagan, such a key performer for Clare, occupies a leading role in the Ballyea story.