Ballygunner handed Limerick champions Kilmallock a 14 point drubbing on the way to their third Munster club title at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday last.This was a record third Munster title for Ballygunner in their 10th final. The eight in a row Waterford champions completely dominated their opponents on a relatively mild January afternoon.
With the Christmas decorations now neatly packed away and a Munster title garnered to frank their domestic achievements; Ballygunner can now look forward to an All-Ireland semi-final versus Derry champions Slaughtneil in two week’s at Parnell Park.
This was another awesome display of power, precision and accuracy from the Darragh O’Sullivan managed side.
Ballygunner werejust better in every facet of the game. Stephen O’Keeffe was once again brilliant on goal when the occasion was required. The half-back line of Philip Mahony, Shane O’Sullivan and Ronan Power commanded their zone with the athleticism of Conor Sheehan and Paddy Leavey providing both defensive cover and attacking impetus in equal measure. Pauric Mahony operating in a deep lying role from his no 11 positon delivered the killing assists to his inside forwards.
Billy O’Keeffe continues to revel in his relocation to attack following the return from injury of Philip Mahony with Peter Hogan, Mikey Mahony and Kevin Mahony all willing to work and score as the need arises. In a team of many stars none shines as bright as Dessie Hutchinson.
The all-star nominee is operating at all-star standard for his club with the finishing prowess that perfectly translates his team mate’s efforts into match winning scores.
Kilmallock began the game brightly putting pressure initially on the ‘Gunners puck-out which yielded early points for Graeme Mulcahy and Robbie Hanley.
Thereafter the Waterford champions dominated. Dessie Hutchinson, with his first touch, struck a point and then in the ninth minute when full-back Mark O’Loughlin fumbled the ball Hutchinson pounced to shoot low to the net, 1-3 to 0-2.
Ballygunner’s Dessie Hutchinson and joint captain Philip Mahony lead out the team for the final.
Moments later Hutchinson had a second goal chance with goalkeeper Barry Hennessy doing well to deflect his low dive out for a 65. Pauric Mahony nailed the placed ball and another free with brother Mikey also opening his account had the eventually winners now leading 1-6 to 0-2 on the quarter hour.
Kevin O’Donnell landed a much needed Kilmallock point as the teams went to the opening water-break 1-6 to 0-3.
Michael Houlihan scored a fine point on resumption for the Limerick men but was soon to hobble off with a hamstring injury.
However a succession of scores from Billy O’Keeffe (2), Pauric Mahony (2, 1f) and Peter Hogan with a single free in reply from Kevin O’Donnell left Ballygunner in an almost unassailable position leading 1-11 to 0-5 at half-time.
The unmarkable Dessie Hutchinson had two early points on the board before another calamitous error by the Kilmallock defence saw corner back Liam English spill the ball with Kevin Mahony on this occasion exacting maximum punishment whipping the loose ball to the net.
The game as a contest, 2-13 to 0-5 after just 35 minutes was now done.
With the clock ticking to 40 minutes a piercing run at the heart of the Kilmallock defence saw Tadhg Foley poised to register a third Ballygunner goal but the youngster was denied by an excellent Barry Hennessy save. A vigilant Billy O’Keeffe was on hand to finish the rebound to the net, 3-14 to 0-6.
The only point of interest remaining at this stage of the game was to see if Ballygunner could better Na Piarsaigh’s 18 victory over Clare’s Sixmilebridge in 2013. In the end the Waterford champions fell just short of this particular milestone. Stephen O’Keeffe brought off two aerobatic saves repelling both a Conor Hanley volley and an angled drive from Conor Hanley. Paddy Leavey received a yellow card from referee Colm Lyons for a rugby style tackle on the Kilmallock attacker threatening the Ballygunner goal late on. Substitute Conor Hanley blasted the resulting 20m free to the net with Killian Haynes also adding a late but of little consolation point for a well beaten Limerick outfit.
Ballygunner’s joint captains, Philip Mahony and Barry Coughlan celebrate after the cup presentation.
Ballygunner: Stephen O’Keeffe, Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley, Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power, Conor Sheehan, Paddy Leavey, Mikey Mahony, Pauric Mahony, Peter Hogan, Kevin Mahony , Dessie Hutchinson, Billy O’Keeffe.
Subs: Conor Power for Peter Hogan (53m), Eddie Hayden for Shane O’Sullivan (55m), Harry Ruddle for Billy O’Keeffe (56m), Barry O’Sullivan for Pauric Mahony and Jake Foley for Dessie Hutchinson (58m).
Scorers: Dessie Hutchinson (1-5), Pauric Mahony (0-7, 0-4f, 0-1’65), Billy O’Keeffe (1-3), Kevin Mahony (1-0), Peter Hogan and Paddy Leavey (0-2), Mikey Mahony (0-1).
Kilmallock: Barry Hennessy, Liam English, Mark O’Loughlin, Dan Joy, Philip O’Loughlin, Ciaran O’Connor, Paudie O’Brien, Robbie Hanley, Aaron Costello, Michael Houlihan, Oisin O’Reilly, David Woulfe, Graeme Mulcahy, Gavin O’Mahony, Kevin O’Donnell.
Subs: Paddy O’Loughlin for Michael Houlihan (24m), Conor Hanley for Philip O’Loughlin (ht), Pheilim O’Reilly for David Woulfe and Robbie Egan for Gavin O’Mahony (44m), Killian Hayes for Aaron Costello (51m)
Scorers: Conor Hanley (1-1, 1-0f), Kevin O’Donnell (0-3, 0-2f), Robbie Hanley (0-2), Graeme Mulcahy, Michael Houlihan, Oisin O’Reilly, Pheilim O’Reilly, Cian O’Connor and Killian Hayes (0-1 each).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).