St Finbarr’s 1-13 Ballinhassig 0-15
With 25 county hurling titles to their name, St Finbarr’s have never known life outside of the senior ranks in Cork.
However, after 2013 losses to Glen Rovers, Douglas and Ballymartle, the famed Togher club found themselves fearing the dreaded drop, with their status hinging on this ‘Battle of the Blues’ with Ballinhassig in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday.
As is often the case with these relegation play-offs, it was a tense and close affair, but at the end it was the Barr’s who were still standing.
Mightily relieved, manager Michael Ryan admitted that the weight of history was heavy on their minds.
"It was, we were trying to just get the lads focused on the fact that it was just a 60-minue game. There was a lot of pressure and it’s a young side, a team in transition really. A win like this will build the character in this team.
"They have shown fierce maturity. They never panicked, even when Ballinhassig had their purple patch."
Facing a deficit of 0-5 to 0-2 after 11 minutes, the Barr’s were under pressure, but even then there were signs Ballinhassig’s shooting was malfunctioning (they would finish with 15 wides). Steven Dineen was reaping rewards at full-forward for the south-east side – who have now suffered a second relegation in three seasons – but the relocation of Damien Cahalane from midfield to full-back had a huge impact for the city side.
They were level on the quarter-hour mark as Eoin Maher met James Goggin’s delivery to divert the ball past Martin Coleman to the net. Ballinhassig’s response was impressive, with points from Fintan O’Leary and Collins, but they could have then pushed five points clear. After Collins did well to win Shane McCarthy’s ball from midfield, Barr’s goalkeeper David O’Gorman made a great save at the expense of a 65, which came to nothing.
Buoyed by that, the Barr’s – playing in yellow, with their opponents in white – found new life, inspired by Eoin Maher and Eoghan Finn and by half-time they were level again, 1-6 to 0-9.
Though Steven Dineen got the opening score of the second-half, that was the last time they led, and a pair of Finn points pushed the Barr’s ahead to give them the impetus again.
Ian Lordan was on hand to convert any frees in scoring distance and though he didn’t score himself, full-forward Robert O’Mahony was heavily involved throughout. Brendan Lombard and Declan O’Sullivan continued to impress in the Ballinhassig half-back line while Brendan Coleman was having a stormer in midfield, but they could not maximise their attacking possession as further chances went to waste. Darren Dineen ensured they never allowed the Barr’s to move clear, and had O’Leary not had a shot blocked down by John Neville on 46, things could have been different. As it was, Finn continued to shine, scoring a lovely point after linking with O’Mahony following a sideline, and Lordan made it 1-13 to 0-14 when O’Mahony was fouled with seven minutes left.
With time ticking down, mistakes were plentiful as the game became more frantic. Coleman’s fourth from play for Ballinhassig cut the gap to the minimum and they had two minutes, plus stoppages, to find a equaliser.
They were awarded frees inside their own 65 and goalkeeper Coleman stepped up and while one had the distance it was wide and the other fell short.
When referee Cathal McAllister called time, players from both sides fell to the ground, but it was those in yellow who did so in celebration.
Scorers for St Finbarr’s: I Lordan 0-5 (four frees), E Maher 1-2, E Finn 0-4, J Goggin, C Keane (sideline) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ballinhassig: B Coleman, D Dineen (three frees) 0-4 each, F O’Leary, P Collins 0-2 each, M Collins, B Lombard, S Dineen 0-1 each.
ST FINBARR’S: D O’Gorman; J Neville, J Burns, R McCarthy; I Maguire, E Keane, J Goggin; D Cahalane, C McCarthy; E Maher, G O’Connor, E Finn; I Lordan, R O’Mahony, C Keane.
Sub: P Wiley for R McCarthy (25).
BALLINHASSIG: M Coleman; S McCarthy, E Finn, M Desmond; D O’Donovan, B Lombard, D O’Sullivan; B Coleman, S McCarthy; D Dineen, P Coomey, F O’Leary; M Collins, S Dineen, P Collins.
Sub: P O’Sullivan for Coomey (half-time).
Referee: J Bermingham (Bride Rovers).