Holden hurling for more than silverware
By John Harrington
Joey Holden was meant to be somewhere in South America around now, not preparing for an All-Ireland Club Hurling Final with Ballyhale Shamrocks against Dunloy this Sunday.
He spent last summer in San Franciso hurling with the Na Fianna club and when that finished up the next leg of his round the world trip was a stint in Brazil.
But just a week out from that flight, he had a sudden yearning for home. It wasn’t homesickness, just a sense of unfinished business on the hurling field with Ballyhale Shamrocks.
He didn’t want his last act for the foreseeable future to be that sickening 2022 All-Ireland Final defeat to Ballygunner, so he resolved to put his travelling on hold to help the club win another Kilkenny senior hurling championship.
Ultimately that proved to be the right decision, and for a much more important reason than the fact that Ballyhale now find themselves in another All-Ireland Final.
Not long after Holden arrived back in Ireland his father Patrick passed away, and it was at least some consolation that he had a few final weeks at home with him.
“I was literally only home three weeks and Daddy passed away,” says Holden.
“That wasn't part of the plan or anything like that. The fact that hurling maybe brought us home to say our goodbyes was very special.
“And then we had the motivation of people we've lost in the club and when it comes into your own home in particular it makes you realise how much it means to you and how much it means to them families.
“So when you're going out there and representing them it just gives you that extra bit of a push to do your best.”
It feels strange to be preparing for an All-Ireland Club Hurling Final without the advice, solicited or otherwise, from his father.
Patrick Holden was hugely proud of his son’s exploits as a hurler with club and county and wasn’t shy about telling him what he was doing well and what he could be doing even better.
“Absolutely,” says Holden. “Every Monday or Tuesday he would ring and there would be a debrief. Even after the Kilkenny games I would have been living with the likes of Colin Fennelly and Padraig Walsh and I’d have to judge how they performed the day before and that would dictate whether I answered the phone in the room or if I’d have to go upstairs.
“He’d be fairly frank. He’d say, “Padraig was fairly useless yesterday!” That’s the kind of character he was. Even at the matches, lads would tell you he’d hear him shouting.
“He had a nice knack of waiting until after the initial reaction. Live feedback was constant.
“He would be down watching training and would know how you were going. He just loved watching hurling. He was always giving advice.”
It’s no surprise to hear that Holden was more emotional after last year’s Kilkenny SHC Final success than any of the previous seven he’s also won.
His thoughts immediately turned to his father, and how much it would have meant to him to see the club win another county title.
Ballyhale Shamorcks have been shaped by both tragedy as well as triumph during a run that has seen them win five championships in a row.
Patrick Holden and Bobby Aylward, both former club chairpersons, passed away last year, as did former player Paul Shefflin at the age of just 41.
Two more former players, Eoin Doyle and Eugene Aylward, died in motor vehicle accidents in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
All five were pictured a specially made poster the Ballyhale players celebrated with after last year’s county final win along with five words that sum up what their club is all about – Family, Community, Together, Friends, Club.
“After the match I thought of all those people because there are so many connections on the team between all the different families,” says Holden.
“I suppose it opens up old wounds of losing the likes of Eugene and Eoin Doyle. We have been through a lot. Outside of hurling, there has been a lot of downs. Hurling keeps us on the up a bit. I think there is a special way to remember them when you can dedicate something to them.
“We would have lost Bob Alyward who was chairman at the time. Mark, our sub goalkeeper is his son. Daddy would have been involved with the club and a former chairman.
“Paul Shefflin’s anniversary is coming up on the fourth of March. That was a big blow. He was such a unique character, friends with everybody, so liked by everyone. He’s missed everywhere.
“When you are representing people like that, you do your best to make their families happy and represent them as best you can.”