The poignancy of the occasion wasn’t lost on players, management and supporters either after the club lost one of their famed sons last month. Paul Foley (RIP) was a key player on six county-winning sides and scored the crucial goal in their only Munster Club success in 2001 over Blackrock.
“I knew of Paul Foley very well, and sometimes as an outsider you don’t understand that incredible link between Paul and the club,” said Ballygunner manager, Denis Walsh, afterwards.
“Paul’s death did have an effect on the players. Those players found the courage to produce a performance today and I’m very proud of them.” Ballygunner return to the provincial arena on November 8 where they’ll face Glen Rovers at a Waterford venue.
Tallow have certainly narrowed the gap having shipped a heavy defeat to the ‘Gunners in the 2011 decider, and, with their minors set to contest a final, the future looks bright. One of their 18 year olds, Ryan Grey, gave a tour-de-force from placed-balls, notching 0-10, but had Tallow more scoring forwards they might well have ended a 30-year wait for a senior title.
Ballygunner possessed a more balanced team but, were also complacent at times, clocking up 14 wides.
David O’Sullivan gave a sparkling man-of-the-match performance from centre-back, and his three long-range points were converted with aplomb. Behind him, Barry Coughlan cut a hugely impressive figure and the towering full-back was responsible for a key interception late in the game when Tallow came hunting for a much-needed goal.
‘Gunner’s possession game worked to a degree but overindulgence or inaccuracy in the short-passing template Walsh has designed for them sometimes produced negative outcomes. When the champions opted to play direct, their skilful inside forward unit of Conor Power, Peter Hogan and Brian O’Sullivan created and converted some glorious chances.
Tallow’s strategy of deploying a sweeper in front of their fullback line left them devoid of numbers up front, and it came as no surprise that they struggled to create openings for goals. As it was, their most dynamic forward, Thomas Ryan, found himself double-marked but, when in possession, the speedy centre-forward gave the ‘Gunner defence plenty to think about.
It looked like the game was heading towards a repeat of the 2011 decider when a Shane O’Sullivan point pushed a confident ‘Gunner side, playing with purpose and panache, 0-8 to 0-4 in front on 22 minutes.
But Tallow showed immense spirit and, with their defence and midfield enjoying an eight minute period of dominance, the west Waterford side clawed their way back into contention with former inter-county players Aidan Kearney, James Murray and Paul O’Brien leading the charge.
That said, Ballygunner mismanaged their game, shooting silly wides and Peter Hogan spurning a golden goal opportunity a minute from the break. And, as the game entered injury-time and Tallow’s confidence soaring, a Grey free and beauty from Evan Sheehan saw the sides retire level (0-8 apiece) at half-time.
Tallow took the lead for the first time a minute into the restart before Brian O’Sullivan got into the position to goal but his well-struck ground shot hit the upright.
‘Gunner switched into another gear for the next 13 minutes, outscoring their opponents 0-7 to 0-2. David O’Sullivan thundered into the game landing a 39th minute point. The centre-back was on target again in the 45th minute before Conor Power, Peter Hogan and Brian O’Sullivan found the range to push their side 0-15 to 0-11 in front.
Shaun O’Sullivan pulled off a brilliant save too during this period when Billy O’Keeffe cut through before Barry Coughlan cut out a pass after a superb Aidan Kearney solo-run. im O’Sullivan added the insurance score for the winners before wild celebrations were set off.
Brian O’Sullivan (0-5,2f, 1’65’); D O’Sullivan (0-3); C Power, S O’Sullivan and P Hogan (0-2 each); Barry O’Sullivan and T O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
R Grey (0-10. 7f, 3 ‘65s’); E Sheehan and T Ryan 0-1 each.
S O’Keeffe; I Kenny, B Coughlan, E Hayden; S Walsh, D O’Sullivan (capt.), P Mahony; B O’Keeffe, H Barnes; JJ Hutchinson, S O’Sullivan, Barry O’Sullivan; C Power, Brian O’Sullivan, P Hogan.
T O’Sullivan for Hutchinson (37); S Power for B O’Keeffe (56); C Sheehan for C Power (59).
S O’Sullivan; M O’Brien (capt.), D O’Brien, K Kearney; A Kearney, J Murray, J Neville; P O’Brien, K Geary; W Henley, T Ryan, Bob McCarthy; E Sheehan, R Grey, J Henley.
P Kearney for Bob McCarthy (42); Bill McCarthy for Neville (51); S Feeney for W Henley (57); J Beecher for J Henley (62)
T Walsh (Modeligo)