Ballygunner crowned AIB Munster Club SHC champions
AIB Munster Club Senior Hurling Final
BALLYGUNNER (Waterford) 2-14 NA PIARSAIGH (Limerick) 2-8.
This was the sweetest of Munster Final victories for Ballygunner.
They’ve fallen short in the provincial competition in each of the last four years but now they’ve finally scaled the summit.
In three of the previous four years their Munster campaign was ended by today’s opponents, Na Piarsaigh, including Final defeats in 2017 and 2015.
To finally turn the tables on the team that has made them suffer so much will have been a huge source of satisfaction for everyone associated with the Waterford club.
After a slowish start they were very much the better team in Semple Stadium.
Their work ethic was ferocious, and it eventually ground down the defending champions who tried hard themselves but kept running into a black and red wall in the second half.
Early on, there was little to suggest that the much vaunted Na Piarsaigh attack would struggle so badly against the Ballygunner defence.
Conor Power scored the first point of the match for Ballygunner, but seconds later Na Piarsaigh made the net billow at the other end of the field.
Shane Dowling picked out Kevin Downes with a pass and the powerful full-forward left Barry Coughlan in his wake as he raced towards goal and then finished emphatically from close range.
Ballygunner hit back with a point immediately, but Na Piarsaigh hit the next four of the match with a long-ranger from Shane Dowling the pick of the bunch.
During this period of the match the Limerick team’s half-back line were completely dominant and any ball that Ballygunner’s increasingly under pressure defence cleared was quickly returned with interest.
Credit to Ballygunner, they soon figured out that landing ball down on top of those Na Piarsaigh half-backs was hurling suicide.
So instead they began to pick their way up the field with short-passing until they got the ball to half-way line where they could then pick out their inside forwards with angled deliveries.
Bit by bit that ploy started working, and when those Ballygunner inside forwards got ball they looked dangerous with it.
Points from Barry O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan, and Billy O’Keeffe were the product of Ballygunner’s improved play, and let Na Piarsaigh know they were in a serious battle.
The reigning champions briefly regained the initiative with nice points from Ronan Lynch and David Dempsey, but then Ballygunner came with another charge in the closing minutes of the half.
First Pauric Mahony landed a free, and then Brian O’Sullivan won a hard-earned penalty when he was felled by Mike Casey in the square.
Up stepped Ballygunner goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe to bury the penalty to the bottom right-hand corner of the Na Piarsaigh net and when the half-time whistle blew the Waterford side were leading 1-7 to 1-6.
With the wind at their backs, Ballygunner took control in the second-half.
Another pointed free from Mahony was quickly followed up by scores from Barry and Brian O’Sullivan.
The sight of a Na Piarsaigh player being surrounded by a hornet of Ballygunner players and turned over was becoming the most visible hallmark of the game.
Between the 35th and 48th minute, Ballygunner outscored the reigning champions by 1-6 to 0-1, and therein was the winning of the match.
The goal was a killer from a Na Piarsaigh point of view. For the previous couple of minutes it looked like they were starting to slow the Ballgunner charge, but then a Pauric Mahony long-range free bounced all the way to their net and the gap was suddenly eight points.
A late Shane Dowling goal briefly gave Na Piarsaigh hope, but there was never any chance a Ballygunner defence superbly marshalled by Wayne Hutchinson was going to suffer a late collapse.
Scorers for Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 1-6 (1-5f), Stephen O’Keeffe 1-0 (1-0 pen), Brian O’Sullivan 0-3, Barry O’Sullivan 0-2, Shane O’Sullivan, Billy O’Keeffe, Conor Power 0-1 each.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: Shane Dowling 1-4 (1-3f), Kevin Downes 1-0, Ronan Lynch 0-2, Alan Dempsey, David Dempsey 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER: Stephen O’Keefe; Eddie Hayden, Barry Coughlan, Ian Kenny; Phillip Mahony, Wayne Hutchinson, Harley Barnes; Billy O’Keefe, Shane O’Sullivan; Barry O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony, Peter Hogan; Tim O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan, Conor Power. Subs: Mikey Mahoney for T O’Sullivan (58), JJ Hutchinson for Conor Power (62).
NA PIARSAIGH: Padraig Kennedy; Jerome Boylan, Michael Casey, Thomas Grimes; Ronan Lynch, Will O’Donoghue, Cathal King; Alan Dempsey, Gordon Brown; David Dempsey, Shane Dowling, Conor Boylan; Adrian Breen, Kevin Downes, Peter Casey. Subs: Michael Foley for Thomas Grimes (42), Conor Houlihan for Breen (50).
Referee: Nathan Wall (Cork).