When Marty Kavanagh was growing up there wasn’t much to write home about when it came to Carlow hurling.
The man they call ‘Mouse’ had to look beyond the confines of his own county for inspiration in his youth. Thankfully, the aristocrats of hurling, Kilkenny, lay just over the border.
Kavanagh was just 11 when Kilkenny recaptured the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2006. Following that Brian Cody’s men went on a run that saw them win seven All-Irelands in eight seasons.
The St. Mullins forward was a regular fixture at Kilkenny throughout this golden era for hurling in the county. They were the empire but Henry Shefflin was the King.
“Yeah, I suppose Henry Shefflin would have been a lad I would have looked up to, definitely. All I used to do in my childhood was go to Kilkenny matches, with my uncles and my father. It was just a thing we did.”
Kavanagh will have to put his admiration for Kilkenny and Shefflin to one side this weekend as his St. Mullins team face All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks in the Leinster club hurling final.
“Look it’s brilliant to go up against these lads. We wouldn’t have played against… we would have played against Kilkenny this year in championship, but that’s about it. So we’re really looking forward to coming up against the best.”
It’s been a fairytale adventure all the way to this weekend’s provincial final for the Carlow champions.
Not only did they come out on top in a cracker with Rathdowney-Errill in the semi-final but they caused a huge upset in the opening round by defeating former champions and All-Ireland favourites Cuala.
They will be looking to replicate their giant-killing exploits this weekend. However, very few are giving them a chance against Shefflin’s charges with many suggesting that St. Mullins haven’t achieved the respect they deserve following that win over Cuala.
Kavanagh couldn’t care less, however, as he and his club are just relishing the moment.
“It doesn’t really bother us whether they do or they don’t. All we can do is try and win matches, and we’ve done that. St Mullins is a proud club. It’s a well-known club around Ireland. It’s 100 years old and that.
“It doesn’t really bother us if we don’t get respect. But we know who we’re coming up against. We’re coming up against the best team in Ireland. These are the games ye want to be playing in. So we’re relishing it.”
It’s been a fantastic few years for Gaelic games in the county with the popularity of both Carlow’s hurling and football sides soaring. That has now transferred onto the club scene as shown by St. Mullins as well as Eire Og who will contest the Leinster club football final next Sunday.
Kavanagh is proud to fly the flag and represent the people of Carlow, however, he admits that it’s all anybody is talking about at home.
“It’s definitely flying the Carlow flag. Once you get out of Carlow, you’re representing Carlow as well as your parish obviously. The support we get from other clubs is brilliant. Obviously Eire Og are flying the flag as well so to have two Carlow teams in the senior final it’s brilliant for the county.
“It’s unbelievable. I would always have said, ‘Jesus, wouldn’t you love to get to a Leinster club final, wouldn’t you love to be at that stage?’ Now that you’re here it’s unbelievable. It’s what everyone is talking about down at home, you actually can’t get away from it. That’s a good thing as well. For ourselves and Eire Og, I think it’s the first time ever in Carlow that happened so it’s brilliant.”
While St. Mullins have defied all expectations by making the final, in the immediate aftermath, it won’t matter much if they come away defeated.
They aren’t thinking like that though. Kavanagh and co respect Ballyhale Shamrocks and Kilkenny for what they’ve done for the game but they have huge self-belief in that they can get the job done.
“We spent most of our spare time going to Kilkenny club hurling matches. Kilkenny club hurling is such a high standard, it’s brilliant and we’re only over the road. We would have seen a lot of them.
“They’re a star-studded team but we have savage belief in our group of players and that’s all you can do is go out with the belief that you’re here because you’re good enough and that’s the way we’ll go into it.”