Sun­day af­ter­noon thriller con­tin­ues hurl­ing’s glo­ri­ous year with quality coverage to match

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT -

THERE have been some pretty fan­tas­tic sport­ing mo­ments over the past week or so. Alexan­dre La­cazette’s gor­geous fin­ish against Liver­pool, the ter­rific Breed­ers Cup vic­to­ries of En­able and Ac­cel­er­ate, Jor­dan Lar­mour’s terp­si­chorean tour de force try in Chicago, Red Star pulling off the big­gest up­set of the Cham­pi­ons League so far, Manch­ester United con­jur­ing up mem­o­ries of 1999.

But for sheer vis­ceral ex­cite­ment, roller-coaster re­ver­sal of for­tunes and cliffhanger de­noue­ments, a rel­a­tively unglam­orous fix­ture topped them all. It may well be that 2018 is the great­est year in the his­tory of hurl­ing. There have been so many clas­sics we’re al­most sated at this stage. But there was still some­thing spe­cial about last Sun­day’s Mun­ster club semi-fi­nal be­tween Bal­ly­gun­ner and Bal­lyea.

The Waterford cham­pi­ons had home ad­van­tage and were favourites but Bal­lyea tore into them from the start. They led by three at half-time thanks to a su­per solo goal from Niall Deasy, a player hav­ing the game of his life. Eight min­utes into the sec­ond half the Clare side were six points clear and the favourites seemed to be floun­der­ing.

En­ter cor­ner-for­ward Conor Power, one of those rare for­wards — Seanie O’Leary and DJ Carey were oth­ers — who al­ways gives the im­pres­sion that a goal is the first thing he thinks of when gain­ing pos­ses­sion. One shot whizzed nar­rowly over, an­other which fol­lowed an eel-like wrig­gle past his marker found the net. Game on.

With 11 min­utes left the teams were level. It was nip and tuck from there on in, but when Pau­ric Ma­hony landed a su­per point to put Bal­ly­gun­ner two up with four min­utes left the mo­men­tum seemed to be with them. Deasy had other ideas, stretch­ing ac­ro­bat­i­cally to di­vert a high ball into the net. Two quick points and Bal­lyea led 2-17 to 1-17 as in­jury-time ebbed away.

Bal­ly­gun­ner were awarded a last-gasp free. We’ve seen this one be­fore, the ball is lobbed in, there are a few oohs and aahs, then a clear­ance and a fi­nal whis­tle. In went the ball, aahs fol­lowed oohs and Bal­lyea knocked it away from goal. But be­fore the whis­tle could go, Power re­trieved it and show­ing remarkable cool­ness in the cir­cum­stances, lobbed a teas­ing ball across goal. Philip Ma­hony (pic­tured), up from the back, met it like Roger Fed­erer putting away a smash to bring the game into ex­tra-time.

More ups and downs. Bal­lyea quickly went two up. Bal­ly­gun­ner came back; 2-20 each at the end of the first pe­riod of ex­tra-time. Play­ers were cramp­ing up. One of them, Bal­ly­gun­ner’s Peter Ho­gan, sum­moned up one last ef­fort for a point to put his team ahead and then promptly col­lapsed. This time the home team, lead­ing by two with two min­utes left, seemed to have it.

Bal­lyea pulled one back and Tony Kelly tried to hoist a long-range equaliser. It fell short but skid­ded treach­er­ously on the sur­face and Stephen O’Keeffe just about knocked it out for a 65. Deasy pointed that — 2-23 each. Ten more min­utes of ex­tra-time. If there was ever a game nei­ther side de­served to lose it was this one. But sched­ul­ing con­straints de­creed there could be no share of the spoils. Kelly looked to have put Bal­lyea ahead again but his shot came off the post and Bal­ly­gun­ner broke from the clear­ance for Barry O’Sul­li­van to point. That seemed a cru­cial turn­ing point and Bal­ly­gun­ner got home by 2-26 to 2-23.

Maybe it sounds slightly chau­vin­is­tic to sug­gest that the best sport­ing en­ter­tain­ment on of­fer last week came in a match be­tween two parish teams played in front of 2,200 fans at an unlovely ground in Waterford. But if you’d seen the match you wouldn’t dis­agree. This was an ex­tra­or­di­nary epic, a mar­vel­lous coda to a mag­nif­i­cent sea­son, an un­ex­pected bonus as the even­ings start to draw in and the nights grow colder.

Such clas­sics would once have been wit­nessed only by those from the clubs in­volved. So not for the first time I felt im­mensely thank­ful to TG4 whose coverage of the club cham­pi­onships is the great un­sung won­der of Ir­ish sports coverage.

On Sun­day, com­men­ta­tor Brian Ty­ers and an­a­lyst Donal O’Grady did their usual su­perb job. Ty­ers is pas­sion­ate with­out in­dulging in the cringe­wor­thy rhetor­i­cal an­tics which mar the per­for­mance of his RTÉ counterparts, O’Grady’s un­der­stated and in­sight­ful con­tri­bu­tion re­minds you of what a com­mand­ing and re­as­sur­ing pres­ence he must have been in the Cork dress­ing room. This was not just sport but sports broad­cast­ing at its best.

Al­ways keep an eye on the club cham­pi­onships. You’ll miss some­thing great if you don’t.

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