Ballygunner dug deep to thwart debutants De La Salle and capture the Waterford senior hurling championship title for the 10th time.
Relatively quiet throughout the opening half when he was overshadowed by his flying corner forwards Tommy Power and Gearoid O’Connor, Paul Flynn emerged a different player for the second half, and his winning point was a score worthy of deciding any county final.
The Ballygunner full forward line accounted for all but two points of the team’s total, and that proved the most decisive contribution to the victory.
The first of their goals came as early as the ninth minute and was brilliantly taken by Tommy Power, and when O’Connor was equally clinical on 20 minutes, the Gunners were a commanding 2-4 to 0-4 to the good.
With Shane O’Sullivan giving the winners an important midfield advantage the De La Salle cause wasn’t being helped either by the inability of their key player, John Mullane, to shake off the man-marking ploy of Alan Kirwan. Wherever Mullane went Kirwan followed, and while the All-Star was dangerous in possession, the minus from a De La Salle perspective was that he didn’t get enough of it.
On the plus side, however, Brian Phelan was commanding at centre back, Kevin Moran was on top of his game at midfield, and Derek McGrath and James Quirke were foraging non-stop up front.
The unerring free-taking of Quirke (he scored seven first half efforts) kept De La Salle in touch when the Gunners were threatening to pull clear, and amazingly they were level in the 28th minute when Phelan’s 60 metre delivery was fumbled in the atrocious conditions by goalkeeper Pat Haran and the ball wormed its way to the net.
Another pointed free by Quirke put them in the front for the first time, but it was all square again at the break, 1-8 to 2-5, when midfielder Colin Kehoe landed a great point.
Despite the worsening weather conditions, the scene was set for a rousing second half and the 8,000 fans certainly weren’t disappointed.
It was nip and tuck as the sides exchanged points although the Gunners eased two clear with great strikes by O’Connor and Flynn.
If Haran might be faulted for De La Salle’s goal he more than compensated with two thrilling saves, including a vital one from Kevin Moran in the 40th minute when De La Salle were trailing by two points.
Mullane finally shook off the tenacious marking of Kirwan to rifle over a marvellous equaliser in the 54th minute, and by now all the neutrals were willing it would go a replay.
Flynn, however, was to have the final say on the way to winning his seventh county title.
His 57th minute match-winner was unquestionably the score of the game and the stamp of the true master craftsman.
De La Salle might have saved it in the tension-charged final moments but the Gunners defence held firm. The title, and the glory, was theirs.
: Ballygunner : T. Power (1-4, 0-2 frees); G. O’Connor (1-2); P. Flynn (0-2); C. Kehoe (0-1), P. Foley (0-1). De La Salle; J. Quirke (0-9. 0-8 frees); B. Phelan (1-0); C. Watt, K. Moran. J. Mullane (0-1) each.
: P. Haran; A. Kirwan, W. Kiely, R. O’Sullivan; N. O’Donnell, F. Hartley, W. Hutchinson; C. Kehoe, S. O’Sullivan; B. O’Sullivan, A. Moloney, P. Foley; T. Power, P. Flynn, G. O’Connor. Subs: S. Walsh for Moloney (46 mins); M. Kearney for B. O’Sullivan (53 mins).
: S. Brenner; A. Kelly, I. Flynn, M. Doherty; D. Russell, B. Phelan, C. Watt; P. Nevin, K. Moran; A. Ryan, L. Lawlor, D. McGrath; J. Quirke, B. Farrell, J. Mullane. Subs; L. Hayes for Farrell (44 mins); T. Kearney for Ryan (53 mins).
: Michael Wadding, Roanmore.