The foot never came off the pedal on Sunday. Ballygunner hurled with the sort of manic intensity against Passage that one would associate with a team attempting to bridge a gap to their last Senior Championship success. Instead, they’re just an hour away from a fifth successive County title in the wake of a 25-point blitzing of a shell-shocked Barony outfit that was swept away by a black and red tsunami down Keane’s Road. For a team that we’ve grown accustomed to justly saluting in recent seasons, this was a Gunners display at an altogether different level.
From Wayne Hutchinson plucking high ball with the same authority he did a decade ago, Shane O’Sullivan hurling as well as ever in midfield, and Pauric Mahony unflappable both in general play and from the set piece, Ballygunner were magnificent at times last Sunday. And it really is worth concentrating on what the champions brought to bear at Walsh Park, even if Passage will wonder how on earth they produced only three scores from play over the course of the hour.
In my time on this beat, I’ve never seen a Ballygunner team play as well as this. The searing pace of their inside forward line, composed of Conor Power, and the O’Sullivans Tim and Brian, provided an hour-long headache for the Passage full-back line, feeding off the quality ball deployed to them primarily at ankle level. Their hurling was crisp, fleet footed and incisive. The stuff of champions.
That the last manager to get the better of the Gunners in a senior final will patrol the line for Abbeyside come the October 7th Final adds some welcome pre-match intrigue as to how The Village will be deployed come throw-in. Peter Queally’s managerial CV, growing all the more impressive with every passing season (while still lining out for his beloved Ballydurn – see Sport 8!) would be permanently printed in gold if he can lead Abbeyside to title glory. Quite how he’ll attempt to quell Ballygunner’s momentum will occupy every spare moment Queally has between now and Sunday week, but word already has it that deploying an additional defender may not be the way he goes. Robbing Peter, if you will.
It’s sobering to state that a Ballygunner side hurling into a strong wind on Sunday last outscored both Abbeyside and De La Salle’s 60-minute tallies recorded 24 hours previously at Fraher Field.
Of course, both semi-finals were there primarily to be won, and the outcomes of both matches yielded just what Ballygunner and Abbeyside desired come the final whistle.
Fraher Field, where Ballygunner have emerged unscathed having negotiated banana skins against their next opponents two years ago (when the floodlights failed) and Lismore in last year’s semi-final, could prove a factor in determining the outcome of the Final. Poor weather and a heavier sod might be cited as positive factors from Abbeyside’s perspective, but Peter Queally knows his charges will need more than a rain dance to deny Ballygunner a historic achievement. The champions are in rude health, and it’s going to take the greatest display in Abbeyside’s history to deny them a fifth successive title.