Well how about that? Despite deservedly retaining the News & Star Cup, the consensus throughout 2015, until last Sunday’s second half at least, was that we hadn’t seen the real Ballygunner. You know, the team that mercilessly cuts teams down, and not without a sense of style, and swagger thrown in for good measure.
Well, the Gunners certainly worked any lingering frustration out of their system on a churned up Walsh Park pitch during one of the most impressive half hours of hurling they’ve ever produced down Keane’s Road.
In the course of an extraordinary second half display, Denis Walsh’s side out-thought, outfought, outmuscled and out-hurled a Glen Rovers side by 0-16 to 1-1, having trailed by five points at the break.
It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a spectacular recovery, securing an eighth provincial final appearance for the men from McGinn Park.
Manager Denis Walsh said as much, both in the build-up and the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s match, which was played in conditions that had one seeking lines of ark-bound animals travelling two by two: that his men hadn’t cut loose this year. Well that itch has now been well and truly scratched after an earth-scorching 30 minutes of hurling.
Spearheaded by the Flynn-like accuracy of Brian O’Sullivan, and with Shane O’Sullivan operating in a gear he’d not engaged in during 2015, the previous Munster defeats to Na Piarsaigh and Cratloe at this venue were superbly exorcised.
Yet only the most ardent Ballygunner fan could have foreseen their team matching their entire County Final score in the second half alone, as the Cork champions went in 0-8 to 0-3 up and were good value for it.
Patrick Horgan, who made light of the testing conditions after heavy overnight rain, opened the scoring with a 65 after two minutes, but Peter Hogan, whose left thigh was heavily strapped due to a hamstring problem, levelled within a minute.
Glen corner-back Gavin Moylan landed a fine strike from halfway after six minutes only for Hogan, clearly not moving freely pointed again after being fed through by Brian O’Sullivan. The Gunners’ minor captain would manage only another eight minutes before being replaced by Stephen Power, another who revelled in his side’s second half resurgence.
Having struck four wides by the ninth minute (eight by half-time), the Glen failed to make their midfield dominance count on the scoring front but edged in front on the quarter-hour thanks to a superb effort from Horgan.
A 21st minute scuffle, in which all but four players ultimately circulated, led to red cards for both Ballygunner’s Philip Mahony and the Glen’s Dean Brosnan; almost certainly meaning Mahony will play no part in the November 22nd Munster decider. And that’s a shame given the superb form Philip has demonstrated over the course of the season.
In the closing 13 minutes of the half (including four additional images due to the scuffle), the Glen, playing in the first provincial campaign in 26 years, initially weathered Brosnan’s loss quite well. Horgan added a brace of frees, followed by a 50-metre strike from captain Graham Callanan and a 29th minute Conor Dorris point. Brian O’Sullivan ended the Gunners’ 26-minute wait for a point in injury-time, with the Glen completing the first half scoring through wing-forward David Cunningham. Halloween may have come and gone, but Ballygunner still had some fireworks in reserve and within nine minutes of the restart, they’d sensationally drawn level, sending the Glen onto the ropes and keeping them there.
Brian O’Sullivan’s 65 sent them on their way within a minute, before Harley Barnes, O’Sullivan (a free) Shane O’Sullivan (in the wake of a fine defensive interception by David O’Sullivan and Brian O’Sullivan (another free) restored parity.
For the first time all afternoon, the home support’s volume levels bettered the sizeable Cork following amongst the 1414-strong crowd – and take a bow, one and all, for braving the elements.
Come the 41st minute, Brian O’Sullivan converted a free from inside his own 65 with zen-like composure to send the Gunners ahead for the first time, and this was to prove a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Less than a minute later, Stephen Power was upended, an indiscretion which O’Sullivan again happily punished, before Tim O’Sullivan opened his afternoon’s account in the 43rd minute. Ballygunner were throwing punch after punch, and the Glen had no answer.
Come the 44th minute, Billy O’Keeffe set off on a 40-yard upfield run and rifled the ball between the posts to bring the Ballygunner substitutes to their feet. Three minutes later, Stephen Power stroked a 65 between the city end uprights to send the Gunners five clear, their 10th point without reply since the resumption. This was legend building stuff
The Glen needed something special to get them back in the hunt and my goodness they got just that come the 50th minute. Donal Noonan’s sideline cut sailed across the pitch and beyond Stephen O’Keeffe’s reach, only for Patrick Horgan to instinctively double on the ball and send it flying in the opposite direction and into the top right hand corner of the Gunners’ net. For all the Gunners’ dominance, their lead had been pinned back to two points thanks to a moment of genius, but this served to only drive the red and black on between then and full-time.
From their next attack, Shane O’Sullivan plundered his second brilliant point from the halfway line before Brian O’Sullivan found his range once more in the 53rd, 55th and 57th minutes. Stephen Power tagged on his second point as the game drifted into additional time, soon followed by a consolation free from Patrick Horgan.
But it was only fitting that a half which belonged to Ballygunner saw them complete the scoring via the hurl of substitute Conor Sheahan.
Thurles Sarsfields or Na Piarsaigh await in the November 22nd Final, and how the Gunners would love to bookend a great year for Deise GAA with another trophy. On the basis of this second half display, they’re going to take some stopping. Take a bow, one and all!
* Apologies to Gunners fans for a one-word omission in my match programme contribution on Sunday last when I intended to refer to Ballygunner’s “sole victorious Munster Final appearance” as opposed to their “sole appearance” which most certainly is not the case. Just goes to show you can never re-read copy enough!
Ballygunner: Stephen O’Keeffe; Eddie Hayden, Barry Coughlan, Ian Kenny; Shane Walsh, David O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony; Harley Barnes; Shane O’Sullivan; Peter Hogan, Barry O’Sullivan, Billy O’Keeffe; Conor Power, Tim O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan.
Scorers: Brian O’Sullivan (0-9; 0-7f, 0-1 65), Shane O’Sullivan and Peter Hogan (0-2 each), Stephen Power (0-2; 0-1 65), Harley Barnes, Billy O’Keeffe, Tim O’Sullivan and Conor Sheahan (0-1 each)
Substitutes: Stephen Power for Peter Hogan (14 mins), JJ Hutchinson for Tim O’Sullivan (45), Sean O’Sullivan for Conor Power (59) and Conor Sheahan (0-1) for B O’Keeffe (61).
Glen Rovers: Cathal Hickey; Ben Murphy, Stephen McDonnell, Gavin Moylan (0-1); David Dowling, Brian Moylan, Graham Callanan (0-1); Donal Cronin, Dave Noonan; Dean Brosnan, Patrick Horgan (1-5; 0-3f, 0-1 65), David Cunningham; Conor Dorris (0-1), Brian Phelan (0-1), David Busteed.
Substitutes: Adam O’Donovan for Brian Phelan (47 mins), Liam Coughlan for David Busteed (52) and Glenn Kennefick for Conor Dorris (57).
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).