Gunners odds on to retain Munster crown
Having arrived early at the Gaelic Grounds last week I was able to watch the other semi-final on TG4 in the comfort of the press box.
Clare champions Ballyea enjoyed home advantage at Cusack Park, Ennis and from the ninth minute also had a numerical advantage over St Finbarr’s of Cork when Conor Cahalane was red carded.
Despite all these obvious advantages the Banner side just about fell over the line to record a single point victory.
Looking from afar I had assessed that St Finbarr’s were the better team but only bad luck and a moment of madness from one of their inter-county stars had cost them victory.
Young Ben Cunningham agonisingly watched his injury time ‘65 sail just wide with extra-time the reward on offer.
The standard was mediocre at best and that was before seeing the second semi-final in person at the Limerick venue.
Ballygunner and Na Piarsaigh were playing at a different level to either Ballyea or St Finbarr’s. The level of the second semi-final was that of a high quality inter-county game rather than any club match.
We are past the time when managers pin up newspaper clippings around the dressing room to motivate their players.
However, should Ballyea manager Robbie Hogan choose to, he could wallpaper every wall on the perimeter of Semple Stadium and those inside and still have some left over with the volume of column inches writing off the chances of his Clare men of beating Ballygunner in this Munster club final.
What chance do Ballyea have of beating Ballygunner? None.
Not even the Clare Champion is predicting a Ballyea win. Twelve months ago, Ballygunner put Ballyea to the sword in the Munster club quarter-final in Ennis.
Darragh O’Sullivan’s side hammered the black and amber side by 17 points (3-20 to 2-06). Ballyea scored their two goals in the closing minutes and their goalkeeper Barry Coote was their best player, this further highlights the gulf in standard between the teams.
Ballyea had 13 of the team that lined- out 12 months ago v Ballygunner starting against St Finbarr’s last time out. One notable addition is that of All-Star and former Hurler of the Year: Tony Kelly.
Kelly missed the corresponding fixture last year while he was recovering from ankle surgery, having suffered injury in the Munster championship game against Waterford earlier that season.
Of course, with Clare already qualified manager Brian Lohan choose to rest Kelly in this year’s Munster championship fixture in Cusack Park, Ennis.
Tony Kelly was well marshalled two weeks ago in the semi-final although he hit two sublime points from the side-line to help secure the win by the narrowest of margins.
Gary Brennan was their man-of-the-match on that occasion, but it will require an improvement of biblical proportions to trouble the current Waterford, Munster and All-Ireland champions.
The only other meeting between the sides was back in 2018 when a late over-head smash from Philip Mahony sent the game at Walsh Park to extra-time with Ballygunner going on to win by three points, (2-26 to 2-23).
Ballygunner have won nine Waterford titles, two Munster club tiles, an All-Ireland club title on their current run; for all that their second half last time out against Na Piarsaigh was probably their best half of hurling they have played.
Over the second 30 minutes they out-scored a heretofore rampant Limerick champions 1-11 to just 0-4. Pauric Mahony was at his brilliant best. His hurling intelligence is unrivalled as he drifted into good positions to provide an outlet for his under duress teammates and create space to hurt his opposition. Pauric Mahony was in good company too. Conor Sheehan and Paddy Leavey got through a huge workload with the half-back line of Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony and Ronan Power dialling up their best play.
Patrick Fitzgerald in his first Munster club campaign has scored 2-5 in two games and is proving the perfect foil for All-Star nominee Dessie Hutchinson.
Peter Hogan, Mikey Mahoney and Kevin Mahony are more the worker bees who can also produce the honey when the opportunity arises.
Credit to the champions who never wavered despite the huge challenge Na Piarsaigh produced. Experience and winning breeds temperament and courage in the line of fire. Calm and steady was the mind-set despite the chaos and crazy intensity abound.
Winning breeds winning. Ballygunner to live up to expectations and win.