Ballygunner still standing after epic
Clare champions on brink of victory but lose after two periods of extra time Ballygunner 2-26 Ballyea 2-23 After two periods of extra time
Should Ballygunner go on to win the Munster title in two weeks’ time they’ll have done it the hard way. The formidable Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh, who beat them in last year’s final, await but yesterday’s semi-final against 2016 All-Ireland finalists Ballyea was a near-death experience before they outlasted the Clare champions over two periods of extra time.
No one was quite sure when Waterford wing back Philip Mahony had previously – if ever – scored a goal, but in the frenzied full-court press that Ballygunner generated deep in injury time, he was there to touch in a ball fired across goal by Conor Power after Ballyea looked to have repelled the last assault.
They were lucky. Manager Fergal Hartley said afterwards tactics and systems go out the window when a contest is as close as this epic turned out to be and he was correct, as he also was to be proud of his team, who had to retrieve the match twice.
Ballyea took time to settle but with the quicksilver influence of Tony Kelly and a rampaging display by Niall Deasy at full forward they asserted control in the five minutes before half-time, outscoring the Waterford champions 1-2 to 0-2 – the goal a deft one-handed finish after Deasy had run Barry Coughlan ragged coming in from the right corner.
Trailing by a goal at half-time Ballygunner found themselves for the second week running – after the previous week’s scare against Midleton – fighting a rearguard action in the second half. Matters were made worse when Ballyea swaggered out after half-time and rattled off three points to double their lead. Kelly with a point and then a neat line-ball to Gary Brennan for another sandwiched one by Martin O’Leary.
The match was turned around in three minutes between the 39th and 42nd by full forward Conor Power, who shot 1-2 in that time, rounding the defence and arrowing the ball into the net in between points and suddenly there was only a point in it, 1-13 to 1-14.
Ballyea took remedial action by switching Jack Browne back and the immediate slide was halted. Although they huffed and puffed a bit, Ballygunner did kick on and wrest back the initiative so that when Pauric Mahony – whose mammoth total of 0-14 included six from play in an exceptional performance – pushed them 1-17 to 1-15 ahead with four minutes left the day looked done.
There were just two minutes of normal time left when Deasy struck again, getting the vital contact to open the very real possibility of Ballyea winning and when O’Leary and Pierse Lillis tacked on points that hardened to a likelihood, as they were roared on by an animated travelling support.
Philip Mahony’s late deliverance still left Ballygunner with a match to win but although they had moved two ahead with just a couple of minutes to go, Deasy intervened once more with points from a free and a 65, the latter possibly avoidable when goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe might have let a ball go.
The momentum was with the home champions. In the second period of two five-minute halves, with the “shoot-out” looming, Ballyea were unable to score again, whereas the winners landed three points from Barry O’Sullivan, replacement Conor Sheahan and appropriately Pauric Mahony, squeezing in one in between. “We got the rub of the green,” was winning manager Hartley’s honest reaction, “Ballyea will probably feel very hard done by on that basis. It was flick of a coin stuff. I know it’s a cliché but no one should have lost that.”
Ballygunner’s Pauric Mahony watches his shot go over the bar and the Ballyea sideline reacts during the Munster Club SHC semi-final at Walsh Park.