The holders kept their heads when underdogs Fourmilewater ramped up the pressure in the third quarter and closed to within a point.
“About ten minutes into the second half it looked like they were turning the screw and they brought it back to a point,” Gunners manager Denis Walsh accepted.
“They were controlling the game and going at us. The bit of experience stood to us and we dug it out. The events over the past few weeks helped in the regard that the lads wanted to dig out the thing for everyone involved in Ballygunner.”
The half-back trio of Harley Barnes, Philip Mahony, and Shane Walsh repelled anything Fourmile could throw at them. Midfield pair David O’Sullivan and Billy O’Keeffe produced eye-catching scores midway through that second period. Top scorer Brian O’Sullivan nailed nine points (eight frees).
Fourmilewater were chasing their first final appearance and, even though they missed the presence of Liam Lawlor, Shane Ryan excelled at number six throughout. Conor Gleeson (0-7) and Craig Guiry (1-1) also took the battle to the Gunners.
A subdued start turned into a battle between the free takers. Ten of the 13 first-half scores came from placed balls as the favourites seized a 1-7 to 1-4 interval advantage.
Ballygunner opened with Brian O’Sullivan and goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe on target from frees. Conor Gleeson steadied Fourmilewater with a 65 and a free. O’Sullivan restored the Gunners’ lead before a costly turnover allowed Shane O’Sullivan claim the first point in general play.
Defences were to the fore throughout. Fourmile centre back Shane Ryan cleared a number of loose balls at one end while Philip Mahony and Harley Barnes mopped up at the other.
Five Brian O’Sullivan frees moved the champions 0-7 to 0-4 in front. And two goals in three minutes electrified proceedings. On 27 minutes, Billy O’Keeffe found Peter Hogan who drove a rasper to the top corner. Fourmile managed to conjure an immediate response. Conor Gleeson crossed for Maurice O’Gorman to gather and he passed to Craig Guiry. The full forward was under pressure but squeezed a shot past Stephen O’Keeffe at the near post.
They narrowed the gap to one on the restart with points from Gleeson and Seamus Lawlor. It took Ballygunner ten minutes to register again through another Brian O’Sullivan free. Diarmuid Wall scored within seconds of his introduction, 1-8 to 1-7.
They couldn’t inch any closer, however. Philip Mahony made an awesome catch and hand-passed for David O’Sullivan to land a scorcher from his own 65. Minutes later, Billy O’Keeffe followed suit from a similar range after receiving a Shane Walsh pass (1-11 to 1-8). Fourmile hit late points by Craig Guiry, Jamie Barron, and Gearoid Hearne, but never threatened a goal. An injury time Barry O’Sullivan effort put Ballygunner out of reach to set up a repeat of the 2011 final against Tallow next Sunday.
Brian O’Sullivan 0-9 (8fs); P Hogan 1-0; S O’Sullivan, S O’Keeffe (2fs) 0-2 each; B O’Keeffe, D O’Sullivan, Barry O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
C Gleeson 0-7 (4fs, 2 65s); C Guiry 1-1; S Lawlor, D Wall, J Barron, G Hearne 0-1 each.
S O’Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; H Barnes, P Mahony, S Walsh; D O’Sullivan, B O’Keeffe; Barry O’Sullivan, S O’Sullivan, C Power; Brian O’Sullivan, JJ Hutchinson, P Hogan.
T O’Sullivan for Hutchinson (49); S Power for B O’Keeffe (49); C Sheehan for C Power (57).
Stephen Ryan; J Walsh, T O’Gorman, Darren Guiry; J McGrath, Shane Ryan, G Hearne; D Ryan. S Walsh; S Lawlor, Maurice O’Gorman, J Barron; B Wall, C Guiry, C Gleeson.
D Wall for Maurice O’Gorman (40); Michael O’Gorman for B Wall (49); Dylan Guiry for McGrath (60).