No county football champions in Waterford yet – and tomorrow’s Christmas – almost.
Ballinacourty held onto the Conway Cup in dramatic fashion at Fraher Field thanks to a superb Patrick Hurney point in the dying moments of a match played in good spirit and at a high tempo.
Despite the heavy pitch, the game ebbed and flowed in as pulsating a manner as a match played at this time of year permits.
Both teams are to be commended for producing several fine passages of play in which they relievingly used the boot without over-relying on the handpass.
Less than a minute into the match, Ballinacourty wing forward John Gorman attempted to convert the goal of the season when spotting Tom Flynn off his line after a fine Patrick Lynch pass.
While the ball sailed away from Flynn’s left hand post and the chance came to nothing, it was pleasing to see a player opting for the imaginative route.
There were captains of industry the pitch over. Nire skipper John Moore led by example, advancing deep into Ballinacourty territory whenever the opportunity arose.
He may have been one of the smallest men on the field, but Moore clearly possessed one of the biggest hearts such was his non-stop running, ceaseless support play and tireless commitment. He had a smashing game, but in that respect he was not alone.
Class on any field of play sticks out like a shiny button, and Gary Hurney was among the shiniest on Sunday.
Whenever the champions advanced beyond the halfway line, Hurney was hungry for the ball, out ahead of whatever two Niremen were assigned to him there and then.
He was shadowed by two markers for much of the match yet still scored four points; his 25th minute strike the footballing equivalent of John Mullane’s point in Thurles the previous Sunday.
If ‘the Gooch’ had knocked this beauty over the bar, it would have had the country talking. It was that good a point from Hurney, whose sporting best may yet be ahead of him – good news for Deise fans.
Ballinacourty’s forward line, the quality of which had been expected to blow The Nire away in the opinion of many pre-match commentators, were certainly doing their bit to live up to that billing.
Yet despite having the busier of the two backlines on display, it was the challengers who led the way for much of the first half thanks to goals from Martin Walsh and Michael Moore.
While there could be little argument with the quality of the first goal – a swift downfield move catalysed from a deep Brian Wall free, the second goal will be one that Gavin Breen will want to forget.
The Ballinacourty corner back ought to have acquitted himself under Shane Walsh’s lofted free; instead he spilled it into the path of Martin Walsh, who toe-poked the ball home from a few feet out.
The game had its fair share of stoppages, some to the utter disbelief of both sets of supporters.
However, there can be no valid explanation offered for the presence of 13 different mentors taking to the field during one such ‘time out’. No, that’s not a misprint: 13.
This level of encroachment would appear to be exclusively the domain of either GAA code and is something that our games could do without.
We could also do without county finals being played in December but that’s a debate for the County Board alone to sort out – and it should be addressed without delay.
The hurler on the ditch’s view across the county is now well-known, virtually unanimous in its sentiment and must be listened to.
The fortunes of any county team should not prove the be all and end all for any county board, the strength of which, lest anyone forget, is invested to it through its clubs. Our club players, who have fared so well in recent Munster Championships, deserve better.
Back to Sunday’s match. Level at the break, the consensus among the press boxers suggested that Ballinacourty were about to take control of the fixture.
They’d hit seven scores to The Nire’s three in the first half, which suggested they carried the greater offensive potency.
And with the Hurneys Patrick and Gary adding two further points in the 34th and 44th minutes respectively, Ballinacourty led by two and looked set to pull away. Not so.
In midfield, The Nire’s Shane Walsh came into his own during an absorbing second half. He got through a mountain of work in what ultimately proved an outstanding display, such was the fight he took to the title holders.
He fired over a terrific point from the right flank to reduce the gap to the minimum and one sensed that this was a tie destined to go down to the wire. And so it did.
Ballinacourty’s hand was considerably weakened by the injury-forced withdrawals of both Richie Foley and James O’Mahoney, whom had contributed handsomely to their team’s display.
Foley is an all-action player, the polar opposite of the hands-on-hips lazy millionaires that pollute English soccer currently.
Light-footed, ever alert and a willing distributor of the ball, Foley tried to shake off a first half knock but lasted all of two minutes after the restart.
As the champs nursed bruises and increasingly found the going tough (as their four point return in the second half indicated), The Nire sensed blood in the water.
Gary Hurney’s supply was effectively cut off by the outstanding Liam Lawlor, who’d been repositioned by manager Sean Guiry from the full-forward line into a sweeper role. He shored up ball after ball and neutered the efficacy of Ballinacourty’s brightest talent.
He fed Diarmuid Wall with an excellent pass after 54 minutes, which the number 10 planted between the posts to draw the sides level for the fourth time.
The Nire’s stock was rising, and their legs rose from the heavy sod with greater speed than the holders could muster.
Having fired over a free four minutes earlier, Walsh demonstrated his strength and perseverance when holding off four would-be tacklers before kicking a marvellous point. It looked like the winning score, but Ballinacourty were having none of it.
It was cruel that the only mistake the brilliant Lawlor made in the entire match led to the equalising point, but few could dispute that a draw wasn’t the right result.
Patrick Hurney pointed. Tommy O’Sullivan blew the final whistle. The title remains in Ballinacourty until Sunday at least. And one feels it will take some relinquishing now.