Stradbally give Champions huge scare

Ballyduff Upper’s Kenneth Geary controls the sliotar under pressure from Stradbally’s John Coffey.

Ballyduff Upper’s Kenneth Geary controls the sliotar under pressure from Stradbally’s John Coffey.

Ballyduff Upper . . . 0-11; Stradbally . . . 0-11

Title-holders Ballyduff Upper teetered on the brink of a shock defeat for lengthy spells in this hard fought county senior hurling championship game at Fraher Field, Dungarvan, on Saturday evening.

For lengthy spells in both halves they had to play second fiddle to a fiercely determined Stradbally opposition and in the end were probably more than happy to settle for the draw which still keeps their title hopes alive – if only just. It was a desperately close call however and the Reds will be entitled to consider themselves a trifle unlucky not to have fashioned their first win to date in the title race.

It wasn’t the best of games in terms of quality hurling, with the respective defences dominant for the most part. But what it may have lacked in skill and finesse it compensated for to a considerable degree in the honesty of the endeavour, the total commitment, and an exciting finale in which both sides wasted golden match winning chances.

While Ballyduff had to line out without their influential centre forward Michael Molumphy because of injury, Stradbally were even harder hit in the that department with both Ger Power and Stephen Cunningham ruled out.

Notwithstanding these defections however the Reds tore into the champions from the very start and on reflection will rue the many missed chances they had from frees over the course of the hour.

Right scrap

Ironically their star man, county skipper Michael Walsh, was the major culprit in that regard, and he was off target from five placed balls that on another day he would convert without batting the proverbial eyelid. His display otherwise was right out of the top drawer and he ended the game with a hugely impressive personal nine point haul.

It was Walsh who gave his side the near perfect start, pointing a brace of frees inside the opening six minutes before Patrick Kearney registered the champions opener in the 7th minute. Stradbally eased into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead but two Brendan Hannon pointed frees had the sides level at the end of the first quarter with Ballyduff now in no doubt about being involved in a right old scrap.

The Reds tacked on three points on the trot, two from Brick frees and another from play by his brother George, and when goalkeeper Trevor Curran denied Shane Kearney a goal with a blinding save in the 27th minute one was just beginning to believe that it might not be the champions day. It was 0-8 to 0-5 to Stradbally at the break, a lead that on the run of the play most definitely didn’t flatter them.

Inside eight minutes of the restart however Ballyduff were level, a great point from an otherwise subdued Stephen Molumphy sandwiched between two from Hannon frees. But if the expectation was that the champions had finally broken the Stradbally resolve and would go on to fashion their expected win they were in for a rude awakening.

If anything Stradbally admirably dug even deeper and they were back in front when Niall Curran clipped over a fine point. Level again when Hannon obliged from another free, and then it looked like Ballyduff had sneaked it when Hannon pointed another free to give them the lead for the very first time with just five minutes left on the clock.

Tense

Two minutes later however ‘Brick’ again levelled from a free and that’s the way it remained into the remaining tension charged and very exciting minutes. The county star had the chance of winning it but was wide from a very scoreable free, and in the final seconds Hannon at the other end was also wide from a position he might have been expected to find the range.

A Ballyduff winner at that belated stage would, however, have been rough justice on the battling Reds for whom goalkeeper Trevor Curran, defenders, John Coffey, Oliver Costelloe, Paddy Doyle, midfielders Shane Lannon and John Hearne, and Michael Walsh, Niall Curan, and George Walsh, all played superbly well.

Not the best or most convincing of Ballyduff displays, but sufficient nonetheless keep their title retention hopes still flickering. Their county duo, Tom Feeney and Stephen Molumphy, had their moments without dominating as they would have been expected to, and overall the team performance was but a pale shadow of the many great displays given en route to championship glory in 2007.

Teams and scorers

Ballyduff Upper: A. Power, P. Molumphy, T. Molumphy, S. Cunningham, S. Hannon, T. Feeney, G. Feeney, J. Twomey, S. Molumphy, J. Kearney, B. Kearney, K. Geary, P. Kearney. S. Kearney, B. Hannon.

Scorers: B. Hannon (0-9, 0-7 frees, 0-1 “65”), P. Kearney, K. Geary (0-1) each.

Stradbally: T. Curran, K. Coffey, O. Costelloe, T. Walsh, A. Doyle, J. Coffey, P. Doyle, J. Hearne, S. Lannon, T. Grey, M. Walsh, T. Costelloe, N. Curran, G. Walsh, C. Lawlor, Sub; L. Casey for Grey.

Scorers: M. Walsh (0-9, 0-6 frees); G. Walsh, N. Curran(0-1) each.

Referee: John Condon, Ring.

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