“WE’RE on track for that five-year plan,” said Jack Browne to Tony Griffin in Thurles after the All-Ireland semi-final was won.
Both were beaming and why not – yes it was a mite close for comfort as Ballyea flirted with disaster down the stretch, but their senses weren’t too blurred to remember Griffin’s bold assertion not too long after the turn of the decade.
“It was before I retired from club hurling,” he recalls, just as the dream is now about to become a reality. “I said that the ambition of the club should be to get to an All-Ireland final.
“The calibre of the players who were coming through – Tony obviously, but Jack Browne, Gudgie, Paul Flanagan. Looking at them I could see it coming down the tracks that we were going to have quality, some of the best players in the country.
I will be so proud on St Patrick’s Day. Someone asked me a few months ago would I be jealous with not being out there. There isn’t an ounce of jealousy. I am so happy for them. It’s the stuff of dreams. I am proud that I did my part in my time and these guys are now doing their part and someone else will come behind them.
“They were also players who were growing up with desire. We were always a very determined side – we always had that ambition because growing up in the shadow of a successful club like Clarecastle it was a case of ‘we would like some of that’.”
They’re getting a taste of it now, with fate dictating that Griffin is perfectly placed to give unique perspective on what awaits against Cuala.
The 2006 All Star hurled with many of these Ballyea players – and the Cuala players too.“Up to three years ago I was living straight across the pitch from Cuala,” he reveals.
“I could puck a ball from the front garden into the pitch and I trained a good few times with them and know them very well. I was playing with Ballyea at the time – it would have been 2010, ’11 and ’12. Myself and Niall Keane were training with them and then going home at weekends to Ballyea.
“Harry Roberts, who is heavily involved in Cuala and has a holiday home in Ballyea, tried to get me to join and when they got to the county final in 2012 I was walking up to training or something and he stuck out the window and said ‘you’re a right asshole, if you’d joined us you’d be in a county final now’. But I was there just for training. I wasn’t going to join them.”
And the challenge Cuala pose?
“I would have worked very closely with Mark and Paul Schutte and David Treacy on a one-to-one level with Dublin. Cuala are very good and I think the thing about them is that they have a large group of very skillful and athletic hurlers.
“From training with them the one thing I could see was how driven they were and how seriously they took their hurling.”
Ditto Ballyea to all of the above on what has been a remarkable voyage from the shadows to centre stage that Griffin, who has blossomed professionally in recent years through his Soar Foundation, has marvelled at from afar.
“There’s no regret that I’m not there,” he says unequivocally. “Circumstances meant I couldn’t continue. Soar had started in 2011/12 and my passion had become very much focused on young people. It meant I was travelling a lot internationally and it took a toll on me – that took away a lot of my drive for the game.
“I will be so proud on St Patrick’s Day. Someone asked me a few months ago would I be jealous with not being out there. There isn’t an ounce of jealousy. I am so happy for them. It’s the stuff of dreams. I am proud that I did my part in my time and these guys are now doing their part and someone else will come behind them.”
How great it would be if that next generation have the title of All-Ireland champions 2017 affixed to the black and amber jerseys for ever more.