Ballygunner players and supporters celebrating at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Ballygunner players and supporters celebrating at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

AIB Munster Club SHC: Brilliant Ballygunner triumph

AIB Munster Club SHC Final

Ballygunner (Waterford) 3-22 Kilmallock (Limerick) 1-12

By Dermot Keyes at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Ballygunner saved their most dominant display of the season for when it mattered most, demolishing a Kilmallock side which lost talisman Micheal Houlihan to a first half injury.

The Gunners, making a record 45th Munster Club Championship appearance, secured a third crown to send them one title clear of city rivals Mount Sion and De La Salle on the provincial roll of honour.

Under grey skies but on an excellent playing surface, Kilmallock were the quicker to settle, with Graeme Mulcahy and Robbie Hanley sending the Limerick champions two points clear inside the opening two minutes. However, the subsequent 14 minutes were all Ballygunner’s, as the eight in a row Déise kingpins stuck 1-6 without reply.

Dessie Hutchinson latched onto Ronan Power’s deep ball to open his account in the third minute, followed by Pauric Mahony’s opening free 60 seconds late, struck from inside his own 65.

Mahony’s second pointed free, again from inside the Gunners’ 65 sent them ahead for the first time after eight minutes and thereafter they never looked back. From their next attack, Dessie Hutchinson brilliantly goaled, zipping the ball beyond Barry Hennessy following Peter Hogan’s pass. Micheal Houlihan, such a key performer for Kilmallock throughout the season, opened his account brilliantly after 20 minutes but left the fray through injury five minutes later. The men in green would score only once more in the first half thanks through a Kevin O’Donnell free while a Ballygunner side, inspired by Pauric Mahony, imposed their will on this fixture to lead by 1-11 to 0-5 at the break, with Billy O’Keeffe, Conor Sheahan and Billy O’Keeffe also hitting top form.

The good second half start Kilmallock required to get back into the contest failed to materalise as Ballygunner kept their collective foot on the accelerator with Dessie Hutchison pointing three minutes after the restart. A minute later, Billy O’Keeffe slid the ball across the parallelogram for Kevin Mahony who goaled from point blank range to send the Gunners 14 points clear. Billy O’Keeffe was next to point before a Kevin O’Donnell free temporarily stemmed the tide from a Kilmallock perspective. Come the 40th minute, Ballygunner corner back Tadhg Foley surged upfield and saw his shot parried by Barry Hennessy in the Kilmallock goal. But the ball fell into the path of Billy O’Keeffe who made no mistake from a few feet out to make leave the Déisemen 3-14 to 0-6 clear.

Three minutes later, Oisin O’Reilly sent over a fine point before the superb Stephen O’Keeffe, diving to his right, denied substitute Conor Hanley a spectacular Kilmallock goal, having doubled on Gavin O’Mahony’s looped pass.

As the benches began emptying, Peter Hogan and replacement Pheilim Reilly traded points, followed by a fine individual score by the solo-running Robbie Hanley. Kilmallock centre-back Ciaran O’Connor, whose namesake was on commentating duties for Waterford’s WLR this afternoon, added his name to the scoresheet before the outstanding Hutchison pointed again 10 minutes from time. The former Brighton & Hove Albion player, who has now scored 13-83 in all competitions since his return to hurling, added another in the 55th following Pauric Mahony’s point three minutes previously. Both men left the field to tremendous ovations from the travelling Ballygunner support, their form undoubtedly providing Liam Cahill with a huge boost ahead of the National Hurling League campaign.

Having been denied a goal by another spectacular O’Keeffe save in the 53rd minute, Conor Hanley found the net for Kilmallock in the first minute of stoppage time from a 21-metre free. And while fellow sub Killian Hayes added another point to close out the scoring, there was no doubting the extent of Ballygunner’s dominance come Colm Lyons’s full-time whistle.

A deserved Munster title also sent out a signal intent to those still standing in this Club Championship: for this is a Ballygunner side with a lean and hungry look ahead of the All-Ireland series.

Scorers for Ballygunner: Dessie Hutchinson (1-5), Pauric Mahony (0-7; 0-4f, 0-1 65); Billy O’Keeffe (1-3), Kevin Mahony (1-0), Paddy Leavey (0-2), Peter Hogan (0-2), Mikey Mahony (0-1).

*Scorers for Kilmallock: *Conor Hanley (1-2; 1-0f), Kevin O’Donnell (0-3; 0-2f), Robbie Hanley (0-2), Graeme Mulcahy (0-1), Oisin O’Reilly (0-1), Ciaran O’Connor (0-1), Pheilim O’Reilly (0-1), Killian Hayes (0-1).

*Ballygunner: *Stephen O’Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley; Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power; Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavey; Dessie Hutchinson, Mikey Mahony, Peter Hogan; Billy O’Keeffe, Kevin Mahony, Pauric Mahony.

*Subs: *Conor Power for Peter Hogan (54),Eddie Hayden for Shane O’Sullivan (56), Harry Ruddle for Billy O’Keeffe (57), Barry O’Sullivan for Pauric Mahony (58), Jake Foley for Dessie Hutchinson (58).

*Kilmallock: *Barry Hennessy; Liam English, Mark O’Loughlin, Dan Joy, Philip O’Loughlin, Ciaran O’Connor, Paudie O’Brien; Robbie Hanley, Aaron Costello; Michael Houlihan, Oisin O’Reilly, David Woulfe; Graeme Mulcahy, Gavin O’Mahony, Kevin O’Donnell.

*Subs: *Paddy O’Loughlin for Micheal Houlihan (25), Conor Hanley for Philip O’Loughlin (HT), Pheilim O’Reilly for David Woulfe (43), Robbie Egan for Gavin O’Mahony (43) and Killian Hayes for Aaron Costello (51).

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).