O’Sullivan unerring as resolute Ballinhassig overpower Midleton

BALLINHASSIG issued a powerful statement of intent at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday when sweeping Midleton aside in the Evening Echo Cork SHC second round.

Ballinhassig, unfortunate to lose out to Erin’s Own in the opening round, bore the look of men fixated with resurrecting their season. They produced a strong defensive effort, where Michael Desmond hurled well in the corner and Michael Ahern was superb in sweeping across the lines at centre-back.

What proved most critical was the configuration of their attack with Brendan Lombard providing a huge amount to the team with his wholehearted display at centre-forward and Fintan O’Leary more effective in the target man berth at full-forward. In addition Paul O’Sullivan thieved three nice points and Declan O’Sullivan excelled with his free-taking.

Midleton, who had big ambitions their band of talented youths could make a real breakthrough this season, are now left with an unpalatable relegation battle. They suffered from a distinct lack of thrust up front, with only Luke O’Farrell looking capable of threatening the Ballinhassig defence. Mickey O’Connell’s withdrawal through injury early in the second half was another grave setback while their challenge was badly hampered by O’Sullivan’s consistent punishing of defensive indiscretions with his frees.

After a swift opening to the action, Midleton made a serious break when O’Farrell surged clear before expertly finishing to the net. That left the East Cork men 1-2 to 0-3 ahead. Yet Ballinhassig were not unnerved. They reeled off two quick points to regain parity and then in the 15th minute forged ahead when Martin Coleman rocketed in a penalty after a hurley was flung at Paul O’Sullivan.

They replicated that confident display in the second half. Midleton were badly flagging when O’Farrell was grounded in the 53rd minute and Pádraig O’Shea journeyed up field to smash the resultant penalty to the net. That trimmed Ballinhassig’s lead to 1-16 to 2-10 and created tangible hope for Midleton.

Yet Ballinhassig refused to buckle, with O’Sullivan converting two frees and Paul O’Sullivan tacking on another point.

Then in injury time, Lombard barged through the centre before flinging the ball across to O’Leary who uncorked a fizzing drive to the top corner.

Victory was ultimately emphatic yet the initial signs were that this tie was going to head all the way to the wire. The opening quarter saw some terrific, hard-fought hurling. A super point by Midleton’s Conor Lehane left them 1-5 to 1-4 adrift by the 16th minute, but Ballinhassig composed a serious push before the break to retire to the dressing room with a 1-10 to 1-6 advantage.

In the second half, Ballinhassig looked highly assured. Pádraig O’Shea, Aidan Ryan and O’Farrell tried manfully to haul Midleton back into contention, yet their comeback plans were compromised by an inability to get closer to Ballinhassig than three points.

The third quarter was largely played out in a fashion that saw the sides trade scores, with Ballinhassig’s direct hurling seeing them respond to every Midleton point with a similar effort of their own. O’Sullivan’s marksmanship was valuable in this time frame and they led 1-16 to 1-10 with 10 minutes remaining.

Even O’Shea’s penalty could not derail them and they now progress to a tilt at Sarsfields in next weekend’s third round. The county champions may start favourites but Ballinhassig are in positive form and they’ll be intent on avenging last year’s one-point first-round defeat.

Scorers for Ballinhassig: D O’Sullivan 0-10 (0-7f, 0-1 ‘65), F O’Leary 1-2, M Coleman 1-0 (1-0 pen), P O’Sullivan 0-3, B Lombard 0-2, D Dineen, D Brennan 0-1 each.

Midleton: L O’Farrell 1-4 (0-2f), P O’Shea 1-1 (1-0 pen, 0-1 ‘65), P Haughney 0-2, M O’Connell (0-1f), C Lehane, S Hennessy 0-1 each.

BALLINHASSIG: M Coleman; P Brennan, E Finn, M Desmond; B O’Sullivan, M Ahern, K O’Sullivan; D Brennan, S McCarthy; S Dineen, B Lombard, D O’Sullivan; P O’Sullivan, F O’Leary, D Dineen.

Subs: M Sheehan for D Dineen (60).

MIDLETON: B Behan; P Barry, A Cahill, S Murphy; P O’Shea, J Nagle, P Smith; S Farrell, M O’Connell; C Lehane, A Ryan, W O’Brien; D Ryan, L O’Farrell, P Haughney.

Subs: J Keane for O’Brien (half-time), S Hennessy for O’Connell (inj) (34), A Cotter for Nagle (40), O’Brien for O’Shea (inj) (63).

Referee: Colm Lyons (Nemo Rangers).

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