Premier Intermediate champions last season on Leeside, Ballyhea were far more clinical than their city opponents, opening up an eight-point gap at half-time and finishing the game with double the Blackrock score. They hurled with a calm aggression despite giving away height and weight in many of the one-versus-one duels, and will ask searching questions of future opponents in the competition.
The key difference between the two sides yesterday, however, was Pa O’Callaghan for Ballyhea, who was by far the most accomplished performer on show in Fermoy (in either game).
The forward’s touch, acceleration and striking were on a different level to the other players and every time Ballyhea got him the ball, there was a positive result.
He had able support from veteran Neil Ronan, who opened the scoring with an early point. Ballyhea had a strong breeze and made good use of it, moving O’Callaghan from centre-forward in nearer goal, where he caused Blackrock endless problems. The city side maintained parity in the first quarter thanks to David Cashman’s accuracy from frees, but Ballyhea took over on 14 minutes, hitting 1-5 without reply.
O’Callaghan and Maurice O’Sullivan started that scoring sequence with points before O’Callaghan, inevitably, created the only goal of the game before passing cleverly to the unmarked Eugene O’Leary, who held his nerve to goal coolly. Ballyhea’s ability to get the maximum return from this period of pressure ultimately laid the foundation for their victory; on the other hand, it was a damaging period from which Blackrock never recovered.
Under pressure at this point all over the field, Blackrock had huge problems getting the ball to stick in their forward line; Ballyhea had Barry Coleman in fine form at centre-back, marshalling the defence well, while captain Maurice O’Sullivan linked the play for them at midfield.
Cashman ended the Rockies’ 14-minute drought with a free, but before the half-time whistle, O’Callaghan still had time to hit two more frees, making it 1-11 to 0-6.
Blackrock made good use of the wind early in the second half, managing two points, but O’Callaghan restored the Ballyhea advantage with two of his own, one a terrific sideline cut.
The city club saw an improvement thanks to the drive of Niall Cashman and the accuracy of half-time substitute Kevin O’Keeffe, but it was an uphill battle for them. That they went on to replace four of their starting forwards indicates how little joy they got from the Ballyhea rearguard.
The game loosened out as the second half wore on and Neil Ronan became more of an influence for Ballyhea, using all his guile to win the ball and strike three fine points, two of them from frees.
Blackrock clearly needed a goal or two to have some chance of winning, but the opposing full-back line of Owen O’Sullivan, Michael Morrissey and Luke Hanley never allowed them a clear sight of the target, and Coleman or wing-back Trevor O’Sullivan were always available for a clearance.
There was an inevitability about the game’s close, with O’Callaghan swinging over a terrific point to emphasise his side’s superiority on a bad day for Blackrock. The youngster would certainly be an addition to the Cork senior hurling panel on yesterday’s performance.
P. O’Callaghan (0-9, 3 frees, 1 sideline); N. Ronan (0-5, 3 frees); E. O’Leary (1-1); G. Morrissey (0-2); J. Morrissey, M. O’Sullivan (0-1 each)
D. Cashman (0-4 frees); K. O’Keeffe (0-3, 1 free, 1 ‘65’); N. Cashman (0-2 frees); S. O’Keeffe, O. Kelleher (0-1 each).
M. Browne; O. O’Sullivan, M. Morrissey, L. Hanley; T. Shanahan, B. Coleman, T. O’Sullivan; M. O’Sullivan (c), D. Copps; N. Ronan, P. O’Callaghan, J. McCarthy; J. Morrissey, G. Morrissey, E. O’Leary.
D. Relihan for Copps, 53.
A. Long; R. Dineen, A. Murphy, D. Stokes; B. Ahern, N. Cashman, G. Norberg; C. Cormack, E. McCarthy; S. O’Keeffe, C. O’Leary; P. Deasy; O. Kelleher, D. Cashman, G. O’Regan.
J. Cashman for Stokes, K. O’Keeffe for D. Cashman, HT; C. Kilcoyne for Kelleher, 41; J. Logue for O’Leary, 43; M. Ryan for Deasy, 49.
N. Wall (Carrigaline).