Killeedy’s All-Ireland Club Junior B Hurling Championship continues to thrive

By Peter McNamara

The introduction and implementation of the All-Ireland Club Junior B Hurling Championship since 2005 is one of the most understated and underappreciated feelgood stories of the GAA.

This week friend and colleague Shaun Cronin of the BreakingNews.ie parish but a dyed-in-the-wool Shanballymore clubman, made a suggestion that “there could be a nice feature in the back-story (of the competition)”.

Junior B Roll of Honour.

Of course, it must be pointed out that this year Shaun and his club team will be taking part in the provincial series, following their Cork County Junior B title success earlier this season.

There is no doubt he has a distinct buzz about Shanballymore’s participation in a competition entering its 11th year.

And there is something refreshingly honest about a player operating at said level being afforded the opportunity to represent his club on such a distinct stage.

The age-old club versus inter-county argument regularly suffocates the GAA in both city and rural areas across the island.

And the negativity that surrounds this grating breakdown in communication has become tiresome.

Yet, the story of the All-Ireland Club JBHC represents all that is unique about the GAA.

Back in ‘05, Killeedy of West Limerick captured the Limerick County JBHC silverware.

Defeating Bruree in the title decider, Killeedy celebrated glory into the early hours in an “accommodating local hostelry” as organising chairman John Magner roguishly put it.

However, while enjoying a “quiet few pints” Magner, his teammates and management had a moment of clarity which led to the generation of a wonderful initiative, as he explains.

“We were all enjoying our night but soon realised that this was it in terms of how far the team in competition could go in that season,” Magner said. “At the time, then GAA President Seán Kelly had introduced provincial and All-Ireland championships at Junior A levels in both codes.

“But there was none for Junior B county winners.

The Killeedy GAA Perpetual Cup.

“So we decided there and then to pitch the idea of creating provincial championships and an All-Ireland series at this particular level to the Munster Council and Croke Park.

“Off our own backs, Killeedy were suddenly attempting to run Munster, Leinster and All-Ireland competitions.

“And, thankfully, the powerbrokers were really supportive of the idea and have been ever since.”

The 2015/16 version of the competition begins this weekend with the provincial quarter-finals.

Basically, there is the Munster and Leinster championships, the latter which includes the Galway representatives and now, for the first time this year, also houses the Meath and Antrim champions.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that we have northern representatives now too this year.

“Michael Davitt’s of the Falls Road in Belfast will be involved in the Leinster championship which is superb, as is, obviously, the fact the Meath champions, Kildalkey, will be as well,” Magner outlined.

(Left to right) - Diarmuid Healy (trainer of Offaly in 1981), Johnny Magner senior, Mike Cunningham, Nicky and Kieran Brennan of Kilkenny's Conahy Shamrocks lifting the All-Ireland silverware in 2011/12, Paddy Curtin and Jim 'The Mayor' Mulcahy.

The finalists of both provincial campaigns go forward to compete in the All-Ireland series, with the Munster victors meeting the runners-up in Leinster and vice versa.

The current All-Ireland champions and holders of The Killeedy GAA Perpetual Cup, Doon of Limerick, were defeated by Killenaule in the Munster final before reversing the form with their Tipp-based counterparts in the national showpiece.

The inaugural Munster final was contested by Cork’s St James, Ardfield and Killeedy with the former club prevailing.

However, Killeedy were still hugely proud of their achievements at the time.

Led by Magner’s father, the late Johnny senior, a magnificent clubman, as well as cousin Conor Magner, Jim O’Neill and PJ Kinsella, Killeedy had not only succeeded in winning a county title.

They had also succeeded in addressing the issue of clubs not having more than a county triumph to aspire to at Junior B grade.

And every other club they contacted to invite to compete were thrilled by the prospect of representing themselves beyond their county constraints.

The competition is developing into a massive victory for all of the positive traits we associate with the Association away from the bright lights of September afternoons at headquarters.

Killeedy host the games in Munster while Abbeyleix is the venue for those competing in the east.

A packed Killeedy GAA ground on match-day.

It is an enormous undertaking for Magner alongside a massive team of top-class individuals such as John and Mike Cunningham, Paddy and John Curtin, Majella Scanlon, Johnny ‘Freezer’ O’Connor and Pat and Danny Cremin among many, many others.

Additionally, the hospitality shown to those travelling to Killeedy and Abbeyleix is second to none.

The competition is getting more intense with each renewal too.

The Michael Fitzmaurice Memorial Cup is played for in the south and is named after a character that scored a last-gasp title-winning goal for Killeedy in the Limerick SHC final of 1980.

Interestingly, Fitzmaurice’s brothers, Willy and Paudie, played for Limerick’s seniors with the latter an All-Ireland SHC winner in 1973.

In Leinster, the teams challenge each other for the right to lift The Alfie Hickey Memorial Cup.

Ultimately, though, it is each player’s dream to line-up on All-Ireland Club Junior B Hurling Championship final Sunday, days prior to the St Patrick’s Day senior carnival at Croker.

“All-Ireland final-day in Killeedy is always quite special,” Magner stated. “We’ve had GAA Presidents regularly present the trophy to the winning captain and it’s a great day out for everybody involved.

“That journey starts all over again this weekend and for one team early next year they’ll collect the cup next March and always have that memory.

“We’re just delighted we’ve been able to develop this competition and hopefully we can enhance it further as the years go by.

“We are extremely fortunate that Canning Hurleys, Joe, Ollie and co, are sponsoring the competition too.

“The Cannings are being really supportive of this and we are thankful to them for that.

“And we firmly believe the entire competition can continue to thrive and expand in time,” Magner added.

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