Munster SHC: Ballygunner’s crusade reaches promised land

Waterford champions concede 1-1 from play as they beat Na Piarsaigh to Munster title

Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-14 Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 2-8

A red (and black) letter day in a sun-dappled Semple Stadium on Sunday, as Ballygunner upset the odds to win the club's second AIB Munster title. It was a record 10th final for the Waterford side but they had won just one previously, in 2001.

They came into this against the most powerful force in contemporary Munster club hurling with one critical advantage. Unlike Na Piarsaigh, whose progress to this year’s final had been untroubled, Ballygunner had had to scrap all the way and that resilience helped them to overcome a poor start, which saw them trailing by five, 0-2 to 1-4, by the 20th minute.

The goal was alertly taken by Kevin Downes, rounding the defence from the left side and shooting a goal as early as the second minute.


A strong 10 minutes before the break wrested the initiative back for the Waterford champions, culminating in a 28th-minute penalty, inscrutably drilled into the right corner of the net by goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe whose opposite number Pádraig Kennedy hardly budged on the line.

That levelled it at 1-6 apiece and an injury-time free from Pauric Mahony pushed Ballygunner ahead at the break and it was a lead they never lost.

Afterwards O’Keeffe reflected on how the team had bounced back after so much disappointment and he recalled his emotion at losing to Na Piarsaigh in last year’s final.

“Yeah we did. I think we maybe pointed to last year that we got a goal to bring it to within a point in 59 minutes and then Na Piarsaigh just of course having that extra bit of gear, that extra bit of experience.

“They kind of steam-rolled us in injury-time to win by eight points. I remember very well because I was standing over there bawling my eyes out. Just to actually get here and to get up the steps - it’s indescribable.”

Curiously given the contrasting runs to this year’s final it was Na Piarsaigh who started the better. They looked more assured and built their early lead against opponents whose touch was sometimes nervous and hesitant but gradually they grew into the game.

Their cover defence got to grips with the star-studded Na Piarsaigh attack to the extraordinary extent that the champions scored just one point in the first 24 minutes of the second half. Overall the Ballygunner backs with Philip Mahony and Wayne Hutchinson outstanding, conceded just 1-1 from play all day.

“They played it smartly,” said Paul Beary, manager of the defeated holders, “just able to sweep up behind us and pick up the breaking ball better than what we did. When we were chasing the game, it made their game plan a bit easier. They ran at us every time and we targeted three concessions each game but we didn’t reach that on this occasion.”

There was far more variety and energy in the Ballygunner attack. Barry O’Sullivan and Brian O’Sullivan were sharp in their shooting whereas Peter Hogan’s tireless running maintained constant pressure.

The match was settled when with his side leading by five, 1-12 to 1-7, Pauric Mahony dropped a free from his own 45-metre line in on the opposition goal and it eluded Will O’Donoghue and ‘keeper Kennedy, going all the way into the net.

Na Piarsaigh had their chances. Shane Dowling’s calmly placed free from around 20 metres took a deflection and went in, in the 54th minute - a minute previously he drew a great save from O’Keeffe when going for goal - to reduce the margin back to six, 2-13 to 2-7 but Ballyguner put up an immense rearguard action and time and time again they won the rucks and contests.

Victorious manager Fergal Hartley, who described his club's quest for the title as a "crusade," reflected on the injury-time goal by Philip Mahony that pushed their semi-final against Ballyea to extra time a fortnight previously.

“I think always when you look back, there’s defining moments and absolutely, that’s a defining moment and we’ll be looking back at that moment, that goal that leadership that Philip Mahony provided, we’ll be looking back at that for, I suppose, forever, because we only have two Munster Championships and every puck and every ball is remembered.

“I suppose you could argue that’s the puck of the ball that won us the Munster championship in the end.”

BALLLYGUNNER: 1. Stephen O'Keeffe (1-0, penalty); 4. Ian Kenny, 3. Barry Coughlan, 2. Eddie Hayden; 6. Wayne Hutchinson, 5. Philip Mahony, 8. Hayley Barnes,7. Billy O'Keeffe (0-1), 10. Barry O'Sullivan (0-2); 9. Shane O'Sullivan (0-1), 12. Pauric Mahony (1-6, 1-5 frees), 11, Peter Hogan; 13. Tim O'Sullivan, 14. Brian O'Sullivan (0-3), 15. Conor Power (0-1). Subs: 17. JJ Hutchinson for Power for (58 mins), 18. Mikey Mahony for T O'Sullivan (62 mins).

NA PIARSAIGH: 1. Pádraig Kennedy; 2. Jerome Boylan, 3. Michael Casey, 7. Cathal King; 5. Ronan Lynch (0-2), 6. Will O'Donoghue, 19. Thomas Grimes; 8. Alan Dempsey (0-1), 9. Gordon Brown; 10. David Dempsey, 11. Shane Dowling (1-4, 1-3 frees), 12. Conor Boylan; 13. Adrian Breen, 14. Kevin Downes (1-0), 15. Peter Casey (0-1). Subs: Michael Foley for Grimes (42 mins), 21. Conor Houlihan for Breen (50 mins).

Referee: Nathan Wall (Cork)

*Attendance 3,339

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times