The flame in Knockshe still burns bright

By Shane Brophy

It might have been the least heralded of the recent County Hurling League finals, but it was the most celebrated as Knockshegowna claimed Division 6 glory when they defeated Thurles Gaels in the final earlier this month.

The North divisions smallest club don’t get many days like that anymore, which is why even a league success is cherished to keep this proud club on the Offaly border alive.

“If anyone was there that heard the cheer after the final whistle, you’d know it a meant a lot to the club,” admitted Michael O’Brien, speaking at the launch of the 2022 North Tipperary Championships.

“From where we were to where we are now, it might only be a league but the crowds that went to the matches meant a lot,” he added.

“There are lots of players with the club and never win anything and we did win a league in 2015 and if you win something every couple of years it gives you a hunger for it again. Everyone is enjoying their hurling now.”

At the turn of the millennium, Knockshegowna were an intermediate club, and a good one at that, mixing it with many clubs that now call themselves senior, including Kiladangan and Templederry. However, while they have gone one way, Knockshe, as they are affectionately known, have slipped back to Junior ‘B’.

Knockshe’s situation is unique in the North division where they are one of two teams playing out of the same parish, but not in the same county.

“We are half a parish with the other half in Shinrone in Offaly,” O’Brien continued.

“I wouldn’t be sure of the population numbers, but everyone knows everyone on the team. It’s not really a team as such, more of a family at this stage. We all grew up together, won and lost together. If someone dies, we all give a hand out, it’s a real community.

“At the minute there isn’t an awful lot in Ballingarry, and it is the hurling team that is keeping the lads going. During the pandemic we went to training just to meet lads, to get stuff going and keep it going.”

Knockshe’s difficulties are added to by the fact there is no primary school in their part of the parish, with kids going to Shinrone, Carrig, Aglish and into Cloughjordan which makes it difficult to retain young players who might then want to continue playing with their schoolfriends in clubs such as Shinrone, Borrisokane, Kilruane MacDonaghs, and indeed Shannon Rovers Gaels whom Knockshegowna are tied in with at juvenile level.

However, the tide could well be changing that that County League success could well be the catalyst according to O’Brien.

“When we won the County League last week, I was talking to one of the mothers and she said there are a group of five or six young lads, and they have made a pact that they will hurl with Knockshe when they grow up. So, it is nice to hear something like that and that win means that much for those young lads that they see what is going when we do win something.”

And they need those young players coming through for as they dropped from intermediate to junior ‘A’ and then to junior ‘B’, their very existence was in doubt.

“I have been hearing that for as long as I have been hurling for twenty odd years,” Mikey added.

“But we’ll keep it going, there are always young lads coming up. We are not like other senior and intermediate clubs; we only get one or two coming up every year and that means a lot.

“The other side of it is, nobody retires in Knockshe, there’s a lad still hurling for us and he is forty-nine. It’s not me, I’d still be a young lad,” he laughed.

“Everyone is doing their level best,” he added.

“You will have your stragglers that come to the matches only but generally the backbone of the team will be at training regularly and put in the effort and when you see that it brings the younger lads on as well. The younger lads look up to the likes of me and Sticky (Mike) Kennedy, all the senior hurlers.

“People might say it is only junior ‘B’ but that doesn’t matter, it’s our senior team and that means a lot to us. We are getting great numbers at training, twenty at training is great for the likes of us when most other clubs would get double that.

“Two years ago, when we went back junior ‘B’ we were scratching our heads wondering what we were going to do. We thought we’d win something, but you need to get your feet on the ground to go again and this year we have. We are more level-headed this year but at the same time we don’t want to do a Waterford on it and win a league and not turn up for the championship.”

And that begins next Friday evening with a tasty local derby away to Lorrha.