“You haven’t lost your touch and you’ve lost a bit of weight as well,” she quips.
Ronan breaks out into a fit of laughter, no response required.
The 35-year-old delivered a virtuoso display in advancing Ballyhea to within one hour of a return to the front bench of Cork hurling. His contribution on the scoreboard reached 0-12, his contribution elsewhere — invaluable.
Favourites Cloyne had produced a terrific opening burst to hit four points without reply by the 10th minute. Enter Neil Ronan.
The centre-forward nailed four frees on the hop to level matters – the latter a monstrous strike from deep inside his own half. On 19 minutes, the two-time All-Ireland medal winner gathered the breaking ball in front of the main stand and split the posts with nonchalant ease. Collecting the ensuing puckout on his own 65-metre line, Ronan opened the shoulders and released the sliotar into the evening air. A sixth consecutive point.
Into the second period and Ronan continued to prove razor-sharp from the dead ball situation, his sole score from open play a rousing effort to edge Ballyhea in front down the home stretch.
“They just went over for me on the night,” he said modestly of his performance.
“It is absolutely brilliant to get the win, really hard fought. We didn’t expect anything less from Cloyne. We have a bit of a history from them. We have had our fair share of draws with them and it looked like it might go that way with 10 minutes to go.
“Our lads showed super heart. We have been training hard since the start of the January. We got a chance today and we seized it. We have one more hurdle to go and we can’t afford to leave it behind us.
“Every January you have to set a goal. We are sick of setting the goal of winning the first round and avoiding relegation. There is a couple of us moving on and this could be our last year. We knuckled down hard and the young lads have been fantastic. It showed in the last ten minutes. Our backs were to the wall and the young lads stood up to be counted.”
Courtesy of Ronan’s scoring blitz, added to Eugene O’Leary and Pa O’Callaghan points, Ballyhea had established a doubles scores advantage, 0-8 to 0-4, on the run in to the break.
Cloyne, having failed to add to their tally in a barren 17 minute spell, reduced the deficit to the minimum when Diarmuid O’Sullivan, teed up by Chris Smith and an intelligent Colm O’Sullivan flick, pulled beyond Mikey Browne.
O’Sullivan turned provider for Cloyne’s second goal of the contest early in the second-half, offloading to lively half-forward Ashley Walsh who made no mistake from close range. Momentum was now with the east Cork outfit, 2-6 to 0-10 they lead, but three successive wides put paid to their spell of dominance.
A Neil Ronan brace, accentuated by a Pa O’Callaghan white flag, returned Ballyhea to pole position and thereafter, the contest ebbed and flowed all the way to the finish. Cloyne sub Ian Cahill and Walsh nailed the target to tie proceedings four minutes from the death, 2-10 to 0-16.
O’Callaghan and Dean Copps provided the defining scores for Jim Quilty’s side, forcing their opponents to hunt for a third green flag. And how close they came. Paudie O’ Sullivan and Ashley Walsh both breached enemy lines in injury-time, both saw their efforts repelled.
“Their second goal was a real sucker punch,” continued Ronan. “We didn’t chase the game, we took the points as they came. We knew we had the scoring power to get in front. We knew Cloyne would get goals, but we knew we could respond. The points won it for us in the end.”
Scorers for Ballyhea: N Ronan (0-12, 0-9 frees), P O’Callaghan (0-3), E O’Leary (0-2), D Copps (0-1).
Scorers for Cloyne: A Walsh (1-3), D O’Sullivan (1-2, 0-2fs), I Cahill (0-2), P O’Sullivan, D Cahill, C O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
BALLYHEA: M Browne; O O’Sullivan, M Morrissey, S Dennehy; J Hennessy, B Coleman, T Shanahan; M O’Sullivan, D Copps; P O’Callaghan, N Ronan, K Morrissey; J Morrissey, G Morrissey, E O’Leary.
Subs: E Morrissey for G Morrissey (ht), J McCarthy for Dennehy (44), I Curtin for K Morrissey (53), J O’Sullivan for O’Leary (55).
CLOYNE: D Óg O Cusack; B McCarthy, K Cronin, B Fleming; S Beausang, E O’Sullivan, Domhnall O’Sullivan; D Cahill, C Smith; C O’Sullivan, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, A Walsh; Paul O’Sullivan, Paudie O’Sullivan, K Dennehy.
Subs: I Cahill for Dennehy (35), D Jermyn for Smith (42).
Referee: J Larkin (Douglas).