Dessie Hutchinson stars as Ballygunner blow Roanmore away

Waterford title goes the way of Darragh O’Sullivan’s men after impressive win

Ballygunner 2-27 Roanmore 0-13

A blitzkrieg start blasted Ballygunner to an eighth successive Waterford hurling title at Walsh Park on Sunday afternoon. Those adjudicating the man of the match award had their work done equally quickly, as Dessie Hutchinson pocketed 1-4 by the end of the first quarter and went on to amass 1-9, all from play.

Roanmore came into this - their first final in 31 years but under the baton of Peter Queally, the last manager to strategise a defeat for the champions, with Passage in the 2013 final - as outsiders and hoping to establish the ground-rules of a tight, physical contest in the early stages.

For a while it went to plan. We had over two minutes of helter-skelter bumping and rucking but in the third minute Robert Power pushed up from defence and found fellow defender Tadhg Foley in support.

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For a young player he showed an immediate grasp of practicalities: if within sight of goal with a choice between a handy point and an unmarked Hutchinson to his right, you make sure the pass sticks. It did. Bang. 1-0 to 0-0. The match was never again a matter of conjecture.

Pauric Mahony added a point quickly and the riposte from Gavin O'Brien, who pointed a free, had to do the challengers until they trailed by 11 despite facing the wind on what was a lovely afternoon in Walsh Park before a crowd of 2,412 - a tumult compared to last year's final, played behind closed doors.

Winning manager Darragh O’Sulivan was rapturous about the champions’ opening power surge in the opening quarter, which left the match as a contest gasping for air by the first water break at 1-9 to 0-2.

“The first quarter we had there, the performance, was probably the best quarter we played in the last eight years. That’s the reality of what happened there. They were phenomenal, playing against a strong wind but 11 points up. That’s what we were looking for, a reaction from the lads.

“Roanmore maybe didn’t have the experience to deal with that first quarter, and we had, and that possibly was the difference, but I’m sick of saying it - the lads are a phenomenal bunch of people. They continue to drive on and drive on.”

Hutchinson had 1-4 in the bag by the end of the first quarter. Roanmore set up cautiously with Billy Nolan, familiar as a county goalkeeper, continuing in his outfield posting as sweeper but unfortunately for Queally’s team, the demands of the match had quickly passed beyond containment.

It now required pursuit and the outnumbered attack never threatened to get them back in business. The starting forwards managed just a point from play all afternoon and three of the final 13 points came from replacements Seán Burke and Lee Hearne.

Their defence proved wide open even with the additional protection. Ballygunner’s use of the ball was considered and imaginative. Anyway, Hutchinson was quite simply unstoppable. Any ball into him was snapped up in his flawless touch and pretty soon Conor Ryan was switched from corner back to mark him but the scores still came.

Hit by a landslide so early, Roanmore became nervous and struggled to put together the running attacks that had been a feature of their semi-final win over Dungarvan. To their credit they mounted a revival of sorts, a succession of O’Brien frees getting the margin down to eight by half-time, 0-7 to 1-12.

Hutchinson unwrapped his bag of tricks to stretch the margin. When Chris Dempsey rounded off a long solo run down the right to sweep over a point for the challengers, it might have been a galvanic rallying point in any match that was still up for grabs.

There was quite a pile-on at the end as the champions ran their bench to outscore their beleaguered opponents 1-7 to 0-1 in the closing 15 minutes. The 20-point margin was three more than last year’s win against Passage.

Thoughts turned immediately to the resumption of the Munster championship after last year’s pandemic abandonment.

“It will absolutely turn to Munster,” said O’Sullivan. “That’s the reality of it. We’ll regroup and in two weeks’ time we’ll go back at it.

“There were five lads there who didn’t play in the Munster final three years ago, so a third of the team has evolved because of injuries and retirements and young lads coming through - that’s what we’ve got to keep doing, keep evolving, keep adding youth to the set-up.

“I’m just thrilled for them because I know how hard they work. That’s what it comes down to.”

He wasn’t sure whether defensive linchpin Philip Mahony who missed out this weekend, would be ready for the provincial campaign.

“It’s eight weeks and he has a fracture in his leg so it’s tight, very tight but I guarantee you Philip Mahony will do everything in his power to get himself back to play. He’s that type of character.”

Ballygunner: Stephen O'Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan (capt.), Shane O'Sullivan; Ronan Power, Tadhg Foley, Billy O'Keeffe; Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavy; Harry Ruddle (0-1), Mikey Mahony (0-2), Pauric Mahony (0-9, six frees); Kevin Mahony (0-1), Dessie Hutchinson (1-9), Peter Hogan (0-2).

Subs: Barry O'Sullivan for Ruddle (50 mins), Jake Foley (0-2) for Sheahan (52 mins), Conor Power (0-1) for P Mahony (58 mins), Cormac Power (1-0) for Hutchinson (58 mins), Barry Power for B O'Keeffe (59 mins).

Roanmore: Jack Chester; Conor Ryan, Rory Furlong, Charlie Chester; Frank McGrath, Chris Dempsey (0-1), Dale Hayes; Cian Wadding, Eoin Madigan; Emmet O'Toole, Gavin O'Brien (capt; 0-7, six frees, one 65), Ethan Flynn; Brian Nolan (0-1), Shane Mackey, Billy Nolan (0-1).

Subs: Seán Burke (0-1) for Flynn (26 mins), Lee Hearne (0-2) for Madigan (43 mins), Harry White for Brian Nolan (54 mins).

Referee: Thomas Walsh (Modeligo)