Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-24 Clonlara (Clare) 0-17
A Rainy Night In Soho by the Pogues was the final song over the public address as the last of the Ballygunner crowd lingered on the field. “Some fell into heaven,” sang Shane MacGowan. Ballygunner have become intimate with that feeling.
In the perishing cold they became the first team to win three Munster club hurling championships in row, joining Blackrock from Cork at the top of the roll of honour with five titles to their name. Their record as the team that has lost the greatest number of Munster finals is a dusty museum piece now, buried under their escalating brilliance.
For all their triumphs it is hard to imagine that Ballygunner have played better than they did in the first half here.
On a dry, still day, and on a generous Semple Stadium surface, as if some bounce had been vacuum-packed since the summer, Ballygunner moved the ball with withering precision and cleverness. Clonlara were game and determined and ripped to pieces.
By half time the Waterford champions had scored 2-12, at the negligible cost of three wides; 2-9 of that total had come from play, shared across five of their forwards and one of their centre fielders.
In the end they fell one point short of the 14-point destruction they visited on Killmallock in the Munster final two years, but this seemed like a more complete performance.
“It is amazing to be where we are as a club,” said Ballygunner manager Darragh O’Sullilvan. “To be alongside Blackrock now for most Munster titles. When I was playing we couldn’t win one. And we couldn’t get over the Clare teams.”
This was the sixth season in a row that Ballygunner had beaten a Clare team. Along with every other impediment that has been blown away too. Clonlara made a spunky start, and flashed over the first two scores, but within minutes they were hemmed into their own half, struggling to win a puck out and furiously bailing water.
The game was blown apart with two goals midway the opening half. The first was simple and direct in its execution. The excellent Peter Hogan gathered possession near the sideline and hit a ball to the edge of the square where Dessie Hutchinson was isolated with his marker. Once he got his hand on the ball the outcome was instant and predictable.
The second goal, though, was an exposition of Ballgunner’s devastating fluency and coherence. A passage of play that started with a short puck-out by Stephen O’Keeffe to Ian Kenny traversed the pitch, over and back and forward, without interruption. Mikey Mahony was involved twice and he played the scoring pass to his brother Kevin, the ninth pass of a coruscating move.
“I just watched the second goal [on a TV replay] which was unbelievable,” said O’Sullivan. “That’s the skill set these guys have and add a bit of work-rate to that. There was space today [compared to the semi-final against Na Piarsaigh]. The teams were set up the last day to close down space whereas today it was more free-flowing.”
Clonlara didn’t take any extra protective measures at the back, but the core difficulty was that they couldn’t make the ball stick at the other end of the field. Concerns about the vulnerability of the Clonlara full back line were probably realised, but they needed the ball to be challenged at source and corrupted to some degree. That didn’t happen.
John Conlon, who has been an inspirational figure on this team for the guts of 15 years, couldn’t get his hands on the ball and despite opening the scoring for Clonlara in each half, he was a peripheral figure. The Galvin brothers, Ian and Colm, couldn’t exert any influence either, and in the absence of load-bearing performances from those players it was unreasonable to expect others to make up the deficit.
“We’re a tiny little parish and we’re taking on the guys of their standing and their stature and I’d be very proud that we didn’t let ourselves down and I think we represented the people of Clare well,” said the Clonlara manager Donal Madden.
“I thought they held their own for long periods today but that level of pressure and that quality of ball going in – inter-county backs are going to struggle against those guys, not to mind club players.”
Peter Hogan won Man of the Match after yet another industrious and intelligent and productive performance, but Kevin Mahony must have run him close. In a temporary costume change Mahony played wing-back in the early rounds of the Waterford championship, but yesterday he caused havoc in the full-forward line, racking up 1-4 from play and having another shot cleared off the line in the first half.
Alongside him Hutchinson was unmanageable too. St Thomas are up next. Hold on to your hats.
Ballygunner: S O’Keeffe, I Kenny, B Coughlan, T Foley, S O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, R Power, C Sheahan (0-1), P Leavey, M Mahony (0-1), Pauric Mahony (0-10, 0-5 frees, 0-2 65s), P Hogan (0-4), P Fitzgerald (0-2), K Mahony (1-4), D Hutchinson (1-1). Subs: H Ruddle (0-1) for Power 50 mins; B O’Keeffe for K Mahony 53 mins; C Power for Sheahan 53 mins; Corbett for Pauric Mahony 58 mins; S Harney for Foley 59 mins
Clonlara: S Gully, M Clancy, G Powell, L Ryan, D Fitzgerald, D McMahon (0-1), P O’Loughlin (0-2), A Moriarty (0-1), J McMahon, C O’Meara, J Conlon (0-2), C Galvin, D Stritch (0-3), I Galvin (0-1), M O’Loughlin (0-6, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65). Subs: C Moriarty for C Galvin 37 mins; D Moloney for O’Meara 49 mins; M Strich (0-1) for O’Loughlin 49 mins; B McLeish for J McMahon 53 mins; J McCormack for Ryan 58 mims
Referee: Ciaran O’Regan (Cork)
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