With just five minutes left, the hoodoo that has dogged Lismore in their tussles with the Gunners seemed set to haunt them yet again.
Trailing by five points and very definitely on the backfoot, something akin to a hurling miracle was needed.
Then up stepped Maurice Shanahan, who had been his side’s main marksman all through. From play and frees Shanahan had been unerringly on target, but all his heroics looked set to go for nothing as the champions eased into a 1-15 to 0-13 lead by the 55th minute.
Then came that incredible Lismore rally. A brace of pointed frees inside 60 seconds by Shanahan left them a goal adrift, and now they piled on the pressure in search of a game saving equalising goal.
When it came it was not without an element of controversy as Ballygunner hotly disputed a free deep in the Lismore half.
Goalkeeper Brendan Landers’ delivery dropped into a crowded goalmouth and as the half-cleared ball reached Shanahan he rifled the ball past a wall of players into the net.
Chances were wasted at both ends as the tension mounted, but it looked like Lismore had won it when midfielder David Howard lofted over the lead point a minute into added time.
Now it was the Gunners who were staring defeat in the face, and to their credit they responded superbly. Shane O’Sullivan, with what was his sole contribution to the scoreboard, rifled over a magnificent equaliser from 65 metres.
No further time for either side to snatch a winning sore, leaving the great rivals to return to Fraher Field next Saturday.
Territorially Lismore, with the wind behind them, enjoyed a very definite edge in the opening half and with Paudie Prendergast lending most support to Shanahan in an attack in which his brother Dan had a very quiet day, they were good value for their 0-10 to 1-4 interval advantage.
The Ballygunner goal on 18 minutes was the highlight of the half as David O’Sullivan raced past a bevy of defenders and from 20 metres unleashed a piledriver that ‘keeper Brendan Landers scarcely saw.
It was a different story on the turnover however as the Gunners upped the tempo with the veteran Fergal Hartley giving a masterful display at centre-back.
Crucially Stephen Power was pointing frees from all distances – including three from well inside his own half – and their passage to the final looked safe until those dramatic and tension charged closing minutes.
Scorers for Ballygunner: S.Power (0-9, 0-7 frees, 0-2 “65s’’); S. Walsh (0-4); D. O’Sullivan (1-0); Pauric Mahony (0-2); S. O’Sullivan (0-1).
Scorers for Lismore: M. Shanahan (1-12, 0-10 frees); P. Prendergast (0-2); D. Howard (0-2).
BALLYGUNNER: S. O’Keeffe; J. Kearney. A. Kirwan. W. Kiely; S. O‘Keefe. F. Hartley. Philip Mahony; S. O’Sullivan. H. Barnes; S. Power. S. Walsh. D. O’Sullivan; J. J. Hutchinson, Pauric Mahony. T. Power.
Sub: N. Waldron for Hartley(51).
LISMORE: B. Landers; E. Bennett. M. Coleman. P. Howard; D. O’Gorman. S. Kearney. J. Prendergast; D. Howard. S. Bennett; D. Shanahan. S. O’Keeffe. R. Barry; C. O’Gorman. M. Shanahan. P. Prendergast.
Subs: T. Walsh for S. Bennett(halftime); S. Daly for O’Keeffe(46); T. O’Brien for Barry(53).
Referee: Pat Casey, Cappoquin.