So near and yet so far! That was the story from Semple stadium last Sunday when Ballygunner failed at the final hurdle in their attempt to annex the Munster club title for a second time. In the end, the Gunners gave themselves a little bit too much to do and Newtownshandrum held on for their third Munster title in six years.
Ballygunner made three changes to the side which began the semi-final against Cratloe a fortnight previously. With Shane Walsh missing out through injury, Willie Kiely came back in at full-back with Alan Kirwan moving across to the corner to keep an eye on Ben O’Connor. Elsewhere JJ Hutchinson came into the attack in place of the injured Shane Walsh while Gearoid O’Connor returned from America and replaced Stephen Power at corner-forward.
Ballygunner made a significant change to their line-up straight after the ball was thrown in. In an attempt to curb the pace of Jerry O’Connor veteran centre-back, Fergal Hartley moved to midfield in a direct swap with Colin Kehoe.
The Waterford champions started very well and took a two point lead. The first point was the result of an excellent team move which ended up with Brian O’Sullivan tapping over the opening score. Amazingly, this proved to be the last point Ballygunner would score from play in the entire game.
Andy Moloney was then forced off with a head injury after receiving a blow from Philip Noonan and Stephen Power came on as a blood sub.
Newtownshandrum opened their account in the ninth minute with a fine point from PJ Copse.
As things threatened to boil over, Jerry O’Connor was yellow-carded for a swipe at Colin Kehoe.
With their half-back line beginning to dominate the lighter Ballygunner forwards, Newtownshandrum began to assert their authority on the game. Pat Mulcahy was majestic at centre-back and his ball-winning ability set up attack after attack for the rebels. A Ben O’Connor 65 soon had them back on level terms and they stole a lead on the Deise champions with further points from Ryan Clifford, a free from Ben O’Connor and a terrific sideline cut from the same player.
Ballygunner were struggling to gain any sort of foothold in the game and were coughing up tonnes of possession on the centre of the field. It must be noted that they were not helped by referee, Declan O’Driscoll who left a lot of rucking from the Newtownshandrum backs go unpunished.
A long-range free from Paul Flynn in the 23rd minute stopped the rot for the Gunners and narrowed the deficit to two points, but this proved to be only a temporary release.
Ryan Clifford capitalised on a mistake by goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe to tap over another point before disaster struck for Ballygunner.
Corner-forward Jamie Coughlan went on a long, mazy run with the sliothar glued to his hurley. His centre was grabbed by full-forward James Bowles and finished to the back of the Ballygunner net.
Both sides swapped points before the referee blew the half-time whistle with Newtownshandrum leading by 1-7 to 0-4.
See The Munster Express newspaper for full story.