A masterclass from midfielder Tony Kelly helped Ballyea see off O’Callaghan’s Mills in Saturday’s thrilling Clare SHC semi-final.
Two years on from their first county crown and Kelly and company are on the silverware trail once again - but with a much-changed side from that which would ultimately go and contest the All-Ireland Club decider after that debut win.
Retirements and emigration has seen the team shorn of many big name players and Kelly, who hit 1-9 at the weekend, is enthusiastic about the rebuilding process.
“I suppose it’s more off the cuff now. There is nothing pre-planned from the players point of view. The management do all their stuff and we just follow it.
“We don’t know the team until a half an hour before the game and everyone just goes out.
“It doesn’t matter who is there, we just put our shoulder to the wheel.
“In the past in 2016, after winning we had maybe fourteen or fifteen unbelievable hurlers – many of whom played inter-county, be it football or hurling.
But now we are building with a lot more club lads. It is very enjoyable seeing those lads breaking onto the senior team,” he said.
Leading by 1-12 to 1-9 at the break, Ballyea forged ahead in the second half to reach only the third final in their history.
The winners were two points to the good within two minutes of the throw-in, thanks to points by Niall Deasy before Jacob Loughnane opened the Mills’ account with a pointed free.
In the ninth minute they showed why they were in the semis when wing-forward Gary Cooney fired home a fine goal after he fielded a high dropping shot, turned and gave Barry Coote no chance in the Ballyea goal to level the tie (1-2 to 0-5).
But a brilliant Kelly goal four minutes from half-time, picking up on the 65m line and surging forward before unleashing a daisycutter turned the tide. After the break, inside the opening four minutes, Kelly shot three wides and hit the post on one occasion, as the Mills whittled the lead down to two, with points by Aidan O’Gorman and Gary Cooney. But two was as close as they got.
Ballyea’s experience helped them to remain in front and with Kelly re-establishing his scoring prowess as the half wore on, a county final appearance was deservedly achieved.
: T Kelly (1-9), N Deasy (0-7, 5f), T Lynch, P Lillis, M O’Leary, E Donnellan, R Griffin (0-1) each.
J Loughnane (0-7, 6f), Gary Cooney (1-2), S Cotter (0-3), P Donnellan, A Fawl, B Donnellan, J Cooney, A O’Gorman (0-1) each.
: B Coote, B Carrigg, J Murphy, J Neylon, A King, J Browne, B O’Connell, G Brennan, T Kelly (Capt.) P Lillis, T Lynch, C Brennan, M O’Leary, N Deasy, E Donnellan.
: R Griffin for Donnellan (58), D Sheehan for O’Leary (60), B Casey for O’Connell (60).
: K Nugent, N Donovan, Conor Cooney, Gerry Cooney, P Donnellan, Ciarán Cooney, A O’Gorman, M McGrath, S O’Gorman, J Loughnane, A Fawl (Capt.), Gary Cooney, B Donnellan, S Cotter, J Cooney.
: C Crehan for Donovan (Half-time), M Pewter for J Cooney (45), K O’Callaghan for Cotter (60).
: W King (St. Joseph’s Doora Barefield)