Ballinacourty 0-12 Stradbally 0-5
For the second successive Sunday, a Waterford Senior Championship Final failed to produce its widely anticipated outcome.
And while Ballinacourty’s sixth Conway Cup success may not quite have measured up in quite the same dramatic terms as Passage’s hurling victory had the previous weekend, the manner in which they dismissed champions Stradbally was most impressive.
The Abbeyside men, who lost one of their greatest ever servants in Tony Mansfield earlier this year, marked his passing in the finest manner possible with a commanding seven-point victory over their great coastal rivals.
And while a Courty win over Stradbally in itself cannot be considered too great a surprise, that they downed the holders in such an authoritative manner has certainly raised some eyebrows around the county.
Stephen Cunningham’s Stradbally, who had swept through the group stage and two knock-out rounds in the most authoritative of manners, simply never established a foothold in Sunday’s encounter, on a pitch which bore the weekend’s elements well.
They trailed by two points after four minutes, with man of the match Gary Hurney kicking the game’s opening score in the third minute after fine support play from Shane Briggs, with Hurney turning provider for Michael O’Halloran moments later.
Stradbally opened their account in the fifth minute when David Grey struck the ball over Stephen Enright’s crossbar after brother Tony had put him in the clear.
Sixty seconds later, Shane Aherne’s free drew the sides level as the sun broke out on an otherwise damp afternoon.
Stradbally goalkeeper Oliver Costelloe was called into action in the ninth minute, stooping well to deny Patrick Hurney a certain goal, and the holders went ahead for the only time in the entire match two minutes later.
In what was, remarkably, to prove their best passage of the play of the entire Final, Michael Walsh unleashed a superb 40-yard pass which dropped into the mitts of the waiting Paddy Kiely, who sent the ball over from inside the 21.
Gary Hurney’s increasing dominance at midfield coincided with a leg injury which impeded Michael Walsh for the remaining 50-plus minutes, a knock which undoubtedly dented Stradbally’s challenge.
Ballinacourty captain Mark Fives, who bustled with energy and led by example throughout the hour, restored his side’s advantage after a pass from Hurney in the 18th minute, and Fives turned provider for James O’Mahoney in the 21st.
Four minutes later, Richie Foley made his first offensive foray of note, with such half-backs surges so long a feature of both his and Shane Briggs’s brand of football. The inter-county hurler sent the ball over the bar after being picked out by a James O’Mahoney sideline as Courty began to make their territorial advantage tell on the scoreboard.
In the 27th minute, Paddy Kiely, after being released by Ger Power and the Brick, shot at goal from 15 yards, but his effort was comfortably handled by Courty keeper Stephen Enright.
On the half-hour, Foley struck again to leave Ballinacourty 0-6 to 0-3 ahead, which was to prove the half-time score. But their chances of dethroning the champions appeared to take a significant hit just before the interval when John Hurney was shown a straight red card after an altercation with Tony Grey.
After the break, Ballinacourty’s vice-like grip on proceedings strengthened, as their defence continued to stymie a Stradbally attack which had been in devastating form throughout the Championship.
Mark Fives, played in by Gary Hurney, opened the second half scoring five minutes in, before Hurney, from an acute angle on the left, 15 yards from goal, struck a superb point despite being off balance as he struck.
Stradbally, unable to gain any kind of footing in the contest, mainly due to Ballinacourty’s greater physicality, ended a 34-minute wait for a point when Shane Aherne struck their fourth point via a free at the game’s three-quarter mark.
Stephen Enright, growing more impressive with every appearance he makes between the sticks, handled Tony Grey’s shot with great authority as the holders sought a way back into the contest in the 48th minute. Moments later, Tommy Connors blazed a shot wide, a miss which all but confirmed Ballinacourty’s ascent to the SFC summit.
Gary Hurney steered a free between the posts 10 minutes from time and Stradbally’s bad day got worse when referee John Condon brandished a red card in Paddy Kiely’s direction after an exchange with James O’Mahoney.
A Michael O’Halloran free, followed by points by Mark Ferncombe and substitute John Power, proved the icing on the cake for the men in green and white, and while David Grey grabbed an injury-time point for Stradbally, this was, clearly and deservedly, Ballinacourty’s day.
The newly crowned champions will face Limerick champions Drumcollogher-Broadford on Sunday week in the Munster Club Championship, with the winners to face the Clare champions in the provincial semi-final.
Ballinacourty: Stephen Enright; Brian Looby, Shane Briggs, David Collins; Richie Foley, Sean O’Hare, Conor Moloney; John Hurney, Gary Hurney; James O’Mahoney, Mark Fives, Mark Ferncombe; Michael O’Halloran, Jason O’Brien, Patrick Hurney.
Substitutes: Shane Donovan for Jason O’Brien (44 mins), John Power for James O’Mahoney (52), Gavin Breen for David Collins (60), Mark Gorman for Michael O’Halloran (60), Patrick Lynch for Conor Moloney (60).
Substitutes not used: Richie Ryan, Ronan Sheehan, Martin Lavan, Tom Hanrahan, David Power, Stephen O’Connor, Eoghan Bergin, Maurice Power, Jamie Ryan, Nicky Dee, Pa Collins.
Scorers: Gary Hurney (0-3; 0-2f), Richie Foley and Mark Fives (0-2 each), Michael O’Halloran (0-2; 0-1f), Mark Ferncombe, John Power and Patrick Hurney (0-1 each).
Stradbally: Oliver Costelloe; Paddy Doyle, Shane Lannon, Andy Doyle; Kevin Lawlor, Eddie Rockett, Tony Grey; Michael Walsh, Paddy Kiely; John Coffey, Shane Aherne, Tommy Connors; David Grey, Robert Aherne, Ger Power.
Substitutes: Kevin Coffey for Andy Doyle (HT), Andy Doyle for Paddy Doyle (38 mins), Jack Mullaney for Ger Power (42), Luke Casey for Kevin Lawlor (42) and Trevor Curran for Tommy Connors (52).
Substitutes not used: Eoin Cunningham, Christopher Casey, Stephen Cunningham, Nicky Connors, Paul Connors, Eoin O’Brien, Cathal Cusack, Eoin McElduff, Paul Tobin, Michael Ahearne, Walter Cullinane, Ciarán Cusack, Trevor Costelloe, Jack Navin, Nicky Power, Charles Walsh.
Scorers: Shane Aherne (0-2f), David Grey (0-2) and Paddy Kiely (0-1).
Referee: John Condon.