Ballygunner rout Passage to secure seventh-straight Waterford title

Champions move within two titles of county record as they run out winners by 17 points

 

Ballygunner 1-23 Passage 0-9

An apprehensive local had previewed Sunday’s Waterford hurling final as ‘Gallipoli’. In the end, the Gunners didn’t quite throw their entire ordinance at the contest but a 17-point win more than emphatically put away their seventh successive county title and closed to within two of the Waterford record of nine-in-a-row held by Mount Sion and Erin’s Own.

The advantages of a short, sustained championship had been seen in neighbouring Wexford and were again on view in Walsh Park. The pitch was excellent and not just compared to the wintry squelch familiar from the conventional club season. A sunny afternoon completed the ideal conditions but there wasn’t unfortunately the semblance of a contest to complete the idyllic environment.

Passage, in the process of rebuilding, probably didn’t expect to be in the final and apart from a first-quarter flourish did nothing to challenge that perception. The club had the added burden of having played a key role in sharpening the champions’ insatiable appetite.

They were the last club to deprive Ballygunner of the title, back in 2013 when they depth-charged the last eight minutes of that year’s final with 2-4 to overcome a seven-point deficit.

“Listen,” said winning manager Darragh O’Sullivan, his mood turning briefly sombre, “2013 was a special day for Passage and fair play to them but the pain that we felt that day was probably the worst and I wasn’t involved but was up in the stand watching like everyone else but it was a sucker punch and those players felt it.

“It was a hardening process in the space of eight minutes and you see what has come out of that 2013 defeat: the hunger and the work-rate that those lads have to win and close out games. Yes, it was a real hard lesson and we’ll keep learning from it.”

So, the champions moved onto 38 unbeaten matches in the county since they last lost - a group match against De La Salle five years ago - and have achieved this while rejuvenating the team consistently since the winning streak began in 2014.

They set about the task with purpose and energy like a team that hadn’t won the title at all let alone the previous six but they would have been frustrated to get to 15 minutes of dominating play with just a two-point lead, 0-5 to 0-3, to show for it.

Dessie Hutchinson was again in livewire form, darting here and there in the full-forward line and arrowing over the opening two points.

Conor Sheahan - an energy source of his own at centrefield - added a third with the productive Peter Hogan got the next, the first of four from play.

Passage depended on Mikey Cummins’s free taking - just three of their 0-9 total came from play - to rack up their first three points to get them to that 0-3 to within two points but thereafter they lost the remainder of the first half 0-2 to 1-8 and that was that.

The goal came from Kevin Mahony, who was put in space by his brother Mikey and took on Noel Connors before rifling the ball into the net for the final’s only goal in the 23rd minute.

In a desultory second half, Ballygunner knocked off another 10 to extend their final winning margin to 17.

Hogan nearly had a second goal for the champions but Eddy Lynch made a fine save. Both sides rolled their benches as the match petered out.

If there was a downside for the champions, it was the Covid-related adjustment that has ruled out any provincial or All-Ireland championships this season.

Darragh O’Sullivan remained keen that this could be revisited.

“There may be something at a later point when they get inter-county out of the way - maybe there’ll be something and I’d like to think that there possibly could be because not just us but other clubs that win their county title deserve an opportunity to represent their county in Munster and we mustn’t lose sight of that.

“Look, hopefully the GAA might come to something. They’ve a lot to deal with at the moment and I don’t think putting something else on their table at this point in time would make any sense. They want to get the club championships finished first and then inter-county and hopefully then we can get on top of this thing.

“Maybe early next year they would be able to play something from a provincial perspective.”

BALLYGUNNER: Stephen O’Keeffe; I Kenny, B Coughlan (jt capt.), T Foley; Billy O’Keeffe, Philip Mahony (jt capt.), Shane O’Sullivan; Conor Sheahan (0-2), Paddy Leavy; Tim O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony (0-8, five frees), Mikey Mahony; Dessie Hutchinson (0-4), Kevin Mahony (1-3), Peter Hogan (0-4). Subs: Barry O’Sullivan (0-1) for M Mahony (48 mins), Eddie Hayden for B O’Keeffe (55 mins), JJ Hutchinson for Hogan (57 mins), Conor Power (0-1) for T O’Sullivan (59 mins), Darragh O’Keeffe for Sheahan (60 mins).

PASSAGE: Eddy Lynch; Ciarán O’Neill, Noel Connors, Darragh Lynch; David Jones; Adam Roche; Gary Cullinane (0-1), Killian Fitzgerald; Stephen Lynch, Owen Connors (0-2, one free), Paddy Flynn; Eoghan Reilly, Liam Flynn (0-1), Mikey Cummins (0-5, all frees). Subs: John Whitty for Roche (half-time), Thomas Connors for Lynch (half-time), Eoghan Reilly for P Flynn (50 mins), Jamie Burke for Cullinane (50 mins), Mike Hutchinson for O’Neill (59 mins).

Referee: Thomas Walsh (Modeligo)

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