It wasn’t a stone-cold classic – Castlehaven were far stronger in the first half and led from the 17th minute until the end – but the opening 21 minutes of the second period provided as a good a tussle as seen anywhere else this year. Fourteen points were scored in that time, only one from a placed ball, as Ballincollig sought to battle back from a four-point half-time deficit.
Unfortunately for the reigning champions, the nearest they came – on two separate occasions – was within one and their predecessors from 2012 and ’13 were able to close out the game. Their manager Jim Nolan knew that his side had been in a battle.
“It was a tough game, but that’s what we were expecting,” he said.
“When they got the goal early on, it was maybe against the run of play but we got a great goal at the other end. From there, we probably just had the upper hand, they came back and came back but just couldn’t lead.
“We used 19 players and we needed them all, they worked so hard. I’ve fierce respect for Ballincollig, they’re a great side. Every championship match brings you on, you can train all you want but you need games. Ballincollig, in fairness, they went down like true champions.”
Brian Hurley, who missed the fourth-round win over St Finbarr’s due to suspension, scored 1-6 on his return. “An added weapon” as Nolan described him.
This was no one-man band, however, and it’s not even certain that Hurley was the brightest performer from his household. His younger brother Michael scored three key long-range points in the second half when Ballincollig were threatening to effect a turnaround, while older brother Stephen was excellent at centre-forward.
At midfield, Mark Collins and Seán Dineen dovetailed well, key in establishing a 1-7 to 1-3 half-time lead, though Dineen was lucky to be shown only a yellow card for a high challenge on Noel Galvin.
Ballincollig were missing influential midfielder Ciarán O’Sullivan due to a broken finger and while corner-back Colin Moore opened the scoring for them in the second minute, they found themselves on the back foot for much of the opening stages.
The score was 0-3 to 0-1 for Castlehaven when Ballincollig attacker John Kelly forced a turnover close to the opposition goal and, after his brother Patrick latched onto possession, he was fouled by John Regan in the square.
Cian Dorgan converted the resultant penalty but, even so, it was a brief interruption to the Haven momentum.
After Brian Hurley scored a free on 17 minutes to make it 0-6 to 1-2, the inter-county star then managed to get his fist to a delivery from excellent wing-back Chris Hayes, the ball looping over goalkeeper Jack Gibbons. With the sides sharing two more points before the turnaround, the Haven retired with a 1-7 to 1-3 advantage and Ballincollig needed something big upon the resumption.
They got it as a brilliant Dorgan point from the right was followed by a score from John Paul Murphy and then Patrick Kelly to leave just one in it. It set a pattern as the teams traded a series of three-point bursts.
The Haven responded through Hayes, Roland Whelton and Michael Hurley but Ballincollig weren’t going to drift away and reeled off scores from Cian Kiely and the increasingly influential duo of John Miskella and Seán Kiely. An equaliser remained elusive though, and Brian and Michael Hurley struck fine efforts at the other end to give the Haven breathing space.
Another from Michael Hurley on 49 made it 1-13 to 1-10. Miskella responded but Ballincollig couldn’t come further, with Dorgan missing two 45s. The Haven maintained their composure and, at the death, Brian Hurley was fouled for a penalty. He opted to send the ball over the bar to extend the lead to three and it proved to be the final action. The beaten manager Michael O’Brien had no complaints but was proud of his team.
“They were the better team on the day,” he said. “We didn’t play to our full potential, they probably didn’t allow us to. We’ve had a great journey for the last 18 months, it’s a gutted dressing room.
“We were always battling to get into the game in the second half. They gave it everything, as a manager that’s all you can ask, to leave everything on the pitch.”
B Hurley (1-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 penalty); M Hurley (0-3); Stephen Hurley (0-2); R Whelton, C Hayes, M Collins (0-1 each).
C Dorgan (1-4, 2 frees), J Miskella (0-2), JP Murphy, S Kiely, P Kelly, C Kiely, C Moore (0-1 each).
P Hurley; J Regan, D Limrick, T O’Leary; R Whelton, D Cahalane, C Hayes; M Collins, S Dineen; S Collins, Stephen Hurley, S Cahalane; S Nolan, B Hurley, M Hurley.
D Hegarty for M Hurley (41); D Cahalane for S Collins (42); Shane Hurley for Hegarty (52, black card); L Collins for Regan (57).
J Gibbons; C Moore, L Jennings, N Galvin; JP Murphy, S O’Donoghue, D Kerstein; S Kiely, P O’Neill; G Durrant, P Kelly, C Kiely; J Kelly, C Dorgan, J Miskella.
A Donovan for Durrant (43); I Coughlan for J Kelly (53); S Murphy for O’Neill (54).
J Bermingham (Bride Rovers).