With Newtown struggling to overcome a dogged Ballymartle team who were competing at this level for the first time, and the scores tied with two minutes of normal time to go, Ben rattled over four exquisite points without reply to eventually break the Riverstick side’s challenge.
Apart from his delightful freetaking, O’Connor was involved in most of Newtown’s scores, with some delightful flicks, and superb passing to teammates, and showed he has lost none of the skill that made him a household name in the game.
Ballymartle will be disappointed following their magnificent achievements in 2010 winning county, provincial and All-Ireland honours at intermediate level, they went into their first SHC clash confident they could get a result.
They matched Newtown in most facets of the game, managed to be level with them on six occasions, but in the heel of the hunt they didn’t have a player of the calibre of Ben O’Connor who could turn a game when needed.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening half during which they were level twice in a game that had everything, some excellent point scoring, a wonderful save by Ballymartle ‘keeper Declan McCarthy from Ryan Clifford and a couple of skirmishes, all of which kept the large attendance well entertained.
Newtown weathered the early Ballymartle pressure to grab their goal after 20 minutes. It came following a superb catch by Ryan Clifford who sent Cathal Naughton racing away with the perfect hand pass, and he made no mistake from close range.
The goal helped Newtown to a half time lead of 1-6 to 0-7, but nine minutes into the second half, a very determined Ballymartle were back on level terms with two points in a row.
The standard of play, which was extremely low in the opening half, improved considerably on the change over as the Carrigdhoun side took the game to Newtown with some very passionate hurling and three points in a row, two by the immaculate Darren McCarthy, had them in 0-12 to 0-7 in front at the three quarter stage.
Ballymartle were hurling well enough to suggest they could cause the upset of the championship, but despite their outfield superiority, they needed a goal to consolidate their position and that never looked like coming against a rock solid Newtown defence in which Gerry O’Mahony, Gerdi O’Mahony and Dermot Gleeson were commanding figures.
As the tension grew so too did the keenness of the exchanges and a couple of yellow cards were flashed, two to Newtown and one to Ballymartle.
Newtown withdrew Ben O’Connor out to midfield in an effort to break the dominance of the Ballymartle pair Darren McCarthy and Seamus Corry and it worked.
O’Connor revelled in the open space to land those four points in a row and when Ryan Clifford scored another, five separated the sides as the game drifted into injury time.
In the five minutes that were played Ballymartle peppered the Newtown defence and were rewarded with a Brian Corry goal and the north Cork side were relieved to hear the final whistle when it eventually came.
On the evidence of this display, Ballymartle won’t fear Cloyne in the second round.
Scorers for Newtownshandrum: B O’Connor 0-7 (4f), C Naughton 1-3, M Bowles, J Coughlan 0-2 each, D Stack, J Bowles, R Clifford 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ballymartle: B O’Dwyer 0-6 (5f), Darren McCarthy 0-5 (2f), B Corry 1-0, R O’Dwyer 0-2, D O’Dwyer, K Fitzpatrick 0-1 each.
NEWP Morrissey; Gerry O’Mahony, Gerdi O’Mahony, D Gleeson; J Herlihy, P Mulcahy, P Noonan; PJ Copse, J O’Connor; R Clifford, M Bowles, C Naughton; J Coughlan, J Bowles, B O’Connor.
Sub: D Stack for M. Bowles (50).
Declan McCarthy; D Coleman, M Tobin, D Edmonds; J Kelly, P O’Dwyer, S Corry; S O’Mahony, Darren McCarthy; R O’Dwyer, B Corry, B Dwyer; J Dwyer, D Dwyer, K Fitzpatrick.
Referee: C McAlister (Aghada).