Gunners’ True Grit

Deise champions mount stunning recovery to reach Munster Final
Dermot Keyes reports
A penchant for the dramatic is not the preferred quality teams set out to identify themselves by, but for the third time in four outings, the hurlers of Ballygunner demonstrated how much of the right stuff they possess.
They’ll need every ounce at their disposal to get the better of Na Piarsaigh in the Munster Club Final at Semple on Sunday week, and they’ll realise that before even seeking a second of the Limerick champions in action.
But now that they can draw breath for the first time in eight weeks, and in particular after a month of white knuckle chewing against Lismore, Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge, Ballygunner’s efforts are now well and truly in heroic territory.

Ballygunner’s JJ Hutchinson celebrates after scoring his side’s crucial late goal against Sixmilebridge in last Sunday’s Munster Club Hurling Semi-Final.

Ballygunner’s JJ Hutchinson celebrates after scoring his side’s crucial late goal against Sixmilebridge in last Sunday’s Munster Club Hurling Semi-Final.


To see a side of unquestioned technical ability flexing its psychological muscle to match-winning effect represents a heave against the historical tide when it comes to this competition. Previous iterations in red and black didn’t win matches like last Sunday’s in Walsh Park, after a first half in which Sixmile outfought and outfoxed their opponents, limiting Ballygunner to just a single point from play.
The dominant characters were all wearing gold and blue, and the sizeable travelling support luxuriated in the Cathal Malone/Niall Gilligan double act that so brilliantly disrupted Ballygunner’s half-back line. Individual battles were being won all over the field by Sixmile, who played with the wind in the opening half and come the break, they led by 0-11 to 0-6. There and then, one genuinely feared for Ballygunner, but they re-emerged a transformed side, winning dirty ball, combining their intricate play with a longer delivery when the time demanded it, and drawing the very best out of their inside line. For the second successive weekend, they won a match despite each of the opposition’s starting forwards scoring from play, which in itself speaks volumes for the quality of both fixtures. And they know they’ll have to dive deep into that well of reserves once more when facing a Na Piarsaigh side which defeated them by seven points in the 2015 Munster Final.
But for now, even the most focused and driven Ballygunner player and supporter has earned the right to park things in neutral for at least a few days and consider the character revealed over the course of three terrific contests.
Ballygunner manager Fergal Hartley embraces his full-forward at the final whistle.

Ballygunner manager Fergal Hartley embraces his full-forward at the final whistle.


“Great stuff again,” exhaled Fergal Hartley in the wake of his team’s latest high wire act. “At half-time, it looked like we were possibly dead and buried. We were five points down, not playing well, but they showed their mettle again and we’re so proud of these lads, that’s what’s in them; these tough games have been coming week in, week out, we’re just very proud.”

Conceding that his team were fortunate to trail by just five points at the break, Hartley said the half-time instruction was wholly straight forward: “We needed to get it together because we weren’t together. They were doing to us what we expected to do to them…but we came out in the second half and we showed what we’re made of…
“It wasn’t really down to a tactical change, it was purely a matter of intent and in fairness the boys did everything we asked of them in the second half, as they have done all year – now our first half performance was probably our weakest all year, albeit against great opposition, a great Sixmilebridge team but in the second half, we showed what we’re made of.”
Two giant steps have been taken in the bid to emulate the men of 2001. One more giant step will surely be required come the Munster Final. And you’d daren’t suggest Ballygunner don’t have it in them. A colossal tussle awaits at the Field of Legends.
Photos by Noel Browne

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