A local derby it was in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday with the score swapping hectic. Ballinhassig took the lead in injury- time, but Valley Rovers playing with immense confidence and undeterred by the underdog tag, finished with three unanswered points to see out a nerve-wracking semi-final.
Valley Rovers manager Joe Crowley couldn’t conceal his delight to be contesting their first county final since promotion in 2009. Between the back-door and a replay, this was their seventh championship outing. By contrast, it was Ballinhassig’s third having received a bye in round four.
“There is a never-say-die attitude in this team. These guys have been through the mill over the years. We came in with a gameplan and it worked for us. Hard work won it for us. We are delighted to get out of this battle. We knew it was going to be a battle and that is what it was. That is the spirit of the team.
“We knew we were good enough. We played Charleville last Sunday morning and had a great workout. All the matches are suiting us. The first day against Kanturk (quarter-final) we were six points down and came back to draw. The second day we were well over them. One game is worth three training sessions.”
After Richie Butler and Chris O’Leary exchanged points with Patrick Collins and Richard Lombard, Valleys enjoyed a productive spell before the killer score arrived from the outstanding Chris O’Leary who totalled 1-8.
Thriving on possession, his goal on 19 minutes was crucial, edging his side 1-5 to 0-3 ahead. He collected from Eoin O’Reilly before blasting from the left endline.
While Rovers didn’t register again in that half, Ballinhassig left them off the hook with wayward shooting.
The goalkeepers pulled off fantastic saves while Ballinhassig clawed their way back through points from Donnacha O’Donovan and sub Paul O’Sullivan to trail 0-5 to 1-5 at the break.
Ballinhassig’s early second-half points from Shane McCarthy and sub Cillian Tyers got them up and running, closing the gap to one. Significantly though, the Innishannon men kept their noses in front. By the three-quarter stage Darragh Looney and Jack Walsh edged them 1-7 to 0-9 ahead.
However, O’Leary extended the margin 1-11 to 0-11 with five minutes remaining. O’Donovan had taken over the free-taking for Ballinhassig and his striking was exceptional. Through his accuracy, the teams were deadlocked 0-14 to 1-11 with one minute to go. At least five minutes of injury-time was announced.
Sub Diarmuid O’Sullivan put Ballinhassig ahead for the first time. But gutsy Rovers showed how difficult they will be to beat, finishing out with flags from O’Leary (2) and John Cottrell. Defence and midfield must be commended too. David Lynch was powerful at centre-back, as a unit they thwarted the Ballinhassig threat.
Valley Rovers will relish a county final meeting with Newcestown on October 11 – the Carbery men fell short by four points to Ballyhea in the 2014 decider. Along the way they beat Valley Rovers in the quarter-final. After winning the PIFC 12 months ago, can the men from Innishannon claim the hurling title a year later?
C O’Leary (1-8, four frees), R Butler (0-2), G Farrell, D Looney, J Cottrell and J Walsh (0-1 each).
D O’Donovan (0-7, frees), S McCarthy, M Collins, F O’Leary, P Collins, P O’Sullivan, R Lombard, C Tyers and D O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
W Burke; C Desmond, N O’Donovan, T O’Brien; J Lynch, D Lynch, D Murphy; G Farrell, D Looney; E O’Reilly, J Walsh, J Cottrell; K Canty, C O’Leary, R Butler.
B Crowley for E O’Reilly (half-time).
M Coleman; B Coleman, E Finn, M Desmond; D O’Donovan, M Aherne, S Sheehan; D O’Callaghan, S McCarthy; M Collins, R Lombard, F O’Leary; P Collins, B Lombard, C Reynolds.
P O’Sullivan for C Reynolds (22), C Tyers for B Lombard (36), D O’Sullivan for D O’Callaghan (54), B O’Sullivan for P Collins (56), B Lombard for M Collins (64).
Colm Lyons (Nemo Rangers).