Ballyduff Lower 4-10; Passage 1-8
Ballyduff Lower began their Senior Hurling Championship campaign with a comprehensive 11-point win over a disappointing Passage side in the first match at Walsh Park last Sunday.
Most pundits, including this one, had predicted a Passage victory beforehand but Ballyduff proved all the doubters wrong with a terrific performance that showed no one will be able to take them lightly in this year’s championship.
Ballyduff started the game well and nice points from play from the lively Niall Clifford and powerful midfielder Pat Matthews had them leading after six minutes.
Passage had been dealt a major blow a couple of minutes earlier when one of their star forwards, Eoin Connors, was forced to leave the field with an ankle injury and he was replaced by Nicky Quinlan.
Passage raised their game after that loss and two points from Eoin Kelly, one a great effort from play after a fine pass from Joey Upton, had Passage back on level terms after eight minutes.
In the 15th minute, Eoin Kelly dispossessed Ballyduff goalkeeper, Brian O’Leary, to set up Conor Carey for the lead point. This was cancelled out a minute later by the score of the match from Ballyduff’s Pat Fitzgerald. Gaining possession deep in his own half he ran 60 yards with the ball before striking it over the bar.
A fine Killian Fitzgerald point and an Eoin Kelly free gave Passage a two-point lead before a Damien Clifford point narrowed the deficit to the bare minimum as the teams went off for the half-time cuppa.
Ballyduff almost gifted Passage a goal in the first minute of the second half as a 65-yard free from Eoin Kelly hit the Ballyduff crossbar. Ballyduff’s defence was living dangerously and after a few near misses Kelly goaled in the 33rd minute when Ballyduff failed to clear a long ball from Aaron Connors and the All Star was on hand to finish to the net.
This goal seemed to motivate Ballyduff more than Passage and a Neil Power free kept them in touch. Ballyduff withdrew Richie Barron and replaced him with Paudi Murphy. The change reaped instant dividends as Murphy found Damien Clifford unmarked in front of the Passage goal. Clifford rounded Passage goalkeeper Michael O’Sullivan and finished to the net.
Two minutes later, Ballyduff were awarded a penalty and goalkeeper Brian O’Leary trotted up field to take it. He duly rattled the sliotar to the net to give Ballyduff the lead for the first time in the second half.
His team were now in the groove and two more frees from Neil Power and a fine effort from De La Salle Harty Cup hero Niall Clifford extended their lead to five points.
In the 50th minute Ballyduff sewed the game up when excellent work from Niall Clifford led to a goal for Jack Kennedy.
Passage’s response was another Eoin Kelly free which was well and truly cancelled out in the 56th minute when a long delivery by Jack Kennedy was dropped into his own net by O’Sullivan.
A minute later Passage managed to give a degree of respectability to the scoreboard when Eoin Kelly grabbed a goal from a 21-yard free.
Ballyduff added two further points from play, one each from Jack Kennedy and substitute Paudi Murphy.
A late free from Eoin Kelly finished the scoring as the game crept into six minutes of injury time.
Ballyduff have been written off as relegation candidates in many quarters, but on this display that will not be a worry. Their backs were well marshalled by the ultra-reliable John O’Leary who cleared ball after ball. There are many inter-county defenders who have had far greater trouble attempting to curb the threat of Eoin Kelly but O’Leary stood firm.
In midfield, former Waterford senior panellist Pat Fitzgerald was probably the most impressive player on duty. He covered every inch of the Walsh Park turf and scored a massive individual point in the first half. In attack Jack Kennedy played well, as did the Clifford brothers in the full-forward line who looked dangerous whenever they were in possession.
Passage will have to improve greatly if they are to avoid the dreaded relegation play-offs. On the day they were best served by Mark Wyse, Noel Connors and of course, Eoin Kelly. The loss of Eoin Connors so early was a major blow but this did not hide the fact that they are overly-reliant on Kelly for scores.
Ballyduff: B O’Leary, G Harris, J O’Leary, C Power, S O’Leary, C Kenny, P Kennedy, P Fitzgerald, P Matthews, P Stevenson, J Kennedy, N Power, D Clifford, R Barron, N Clifford. Subs: P Murphy for R Barron, D Van Veen for P Matthews, D Power for S O’Leary, M De Paor for D Clifford.
Scorers: J Kennedy 2-1, D Clifford 1-1, N Power 0-3 f, B O’Leary 1-0, N Clifford 0-2, P Matthews 0-1, P Fitzgerald 0-1, P Murphy 0-1
Passage: M O’Sullivan, L Carey, B Carey, M Wyse, J Heffernan, N Connors, I Power, J Upton, T Connors, K Fitzgerald, C Carey, E Connors, A Connors, E Kelly, B Fitzgerald. Subs: N Quinlan for E Connors, E Quann for J Upton.
Scorers: E Kelly 2-6 (1-5 f), C Carey 0-1, K Fitzgerald 0-1