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'When we won the junior county, we thought we were in heaven then'

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Michael Holland knows a thing or two about the big day in Croke Park. A club stalwart, his son Jer led Fr O’Neill’s up the Hogan steps in 2006 to collect the All Ireland junior hurling club championship silverware. Another son Edmund was involved too.

Supporting Fr O’Neill’s from Kilcredan National School were brothers, sisters, and mothers of the players. Included are Leah Smiddy, Nora Harrington, Enda Mellerick, Una Sloane, and school principal Margaret Beausang with Riain Sweeney, Niamh Hankard, Maebh Sweeney, Jamie Kenneally-Murphy, and Kayden Smiddy. Picture Dan Linehan

Not for a moment, did he think Fr O’Neill’s would run out onto the hallowed turf again.

“I never thought we would be back again in Croke Park contesting another All Ireland final, certainly not at this level. From that day, things have climbed and climbed and climbed. Over the last three or four years, the steps we have taken have been huge. Winning the Cork U21 hurling title in 2018 was a huge step.

“These are the best group of players we ever had, that ever came through and they came through more or less together. That is what made us today.

“They have taken us up grades. Somebody said to me during the week that there is 12 of this team under 25, and that tells its own story. And all the subs that come on, and there are four or five subs that appear regularly, they are all in that age bracket as well.”

Kilkenny teams are dab hands at chasing victories. Holland has faith in Fr O’Neill’s chances.

“This is new territory for us, without a shadow of a doubt. When we won the junior county, I don’t think we ever envisaged this. We thought we were in heaven then. We want to win this no question about it.

“Any Kilkenny team you meet, especially in a final, you can be sure they are a good team, a well-equipped team.

“But we are there, we have earned our right to be there. We have worked hard. We have played some tremendous games to get there. I think we are in with a chance. I think we should have another cup to add to our lot on Sunday night.”