[team1]Ballygunner (Waterford)[/team1][score1]1-18[/score1][team2]Midleton (Cork)[/team2][score2]2-13[/score2][/score]
Waterford’s Ballygunner are through to the Munster club hurling semi-finals, but only after a real battle with Midleton of Cork, who put it up to the favourites in a game that went to the wire.
The 1,342 in Walsh Park were probably expecting a comfortable win for the home side, but Midleton led by four at the break and were still in the hunt in injury-time. Ballygunner had to call on all their experience to get over the line, with Pauric Mahony’s dozen points critical to their win.
“I don’t know who came up with those odds, because they were the most ridiculous odds,” said Ballygunner boss Fergal Hartley of the favourites’ tag. “If I were a neutral, I’d have put all my money on Midleton, because they were ridiculous odds, genuinely. I’ve never seen a game where the gap between the perception and reality was so great; that was a 50-50 game and it was always going to be. We played Midleton early on in the year and they beat us. We knew how good they were.
“We might have been marginal favourites, because we were county champions and they weren’t, that there might have been an expectation they’d come down and raise the white flag, but knowing Midleton, their tradition and their history, that was never going to be the case.”
His opposite number with Midleton confirmed as much.
“We gave it (the competition) the respect it deserved,” said Ger Fitzgerald.
“We were very proud to come down here and represent Cork today. That showed in the performance, so it wasn’t really that hard.
“We knew we put in a performance [in the Cork county final] not on a par with what we had done earlier in the year, so we knew there a little bit more in us and we showed that today.
“We’re just disappointed that we didn’t get our just result in the end. It’s difficult, you need to take your opportunities at this level.”
Ballygunner did. They were that bit more clinical than the visitors, though it was never easy for the home side.
The game wasn’t a matter of two halves as a half of two quarters: In the opening stages, Midleton’s defenders looked unsure of themselves, and coughed up free after free, all of them pointed by the metronomic Pauric Mahony. A lead of 0-6 to 0-2 was a fair reflection of the Waterford champions’ supremacy.
When the visitors settled, however, they outscored Ballygunner 2-4 to 0-3 approaching half-time. Firstly, Conor
Lehane went for goal from a close-in free, beating the Gunners defenders with a low shot. Cormac Walsh (two) and Patrick White hit points and, when Tommy Wallace dived low to turn a Billy O’Keeffe shot aside, Midleton
regrouped and swept downfield. Tommy O’Connell delayed his handpass to send Cormac Beausang through and the latter finished to the corner of the net.
Half-time and Midleton leading, 2-8 to 0-10.
The game resumed with two quick Ballygunner points, from sub Peter Hogan and Timmy O’Sullivan. Midleton responded through a Lehane (free) and a superb Beausang sideline cut.
Ominously for Midleton, however, Mahony’s unerring eye from placed balls started to kick in.
A 65 and a free narrowed the gap to two points before the Ballygunner goal: Corner-forward Conor Power wriggled past his marker, lost possession and improvised a ground stroke that flew home. Mahony added a free and it was 1-15 to 2-10 entering the final 10 minutes.
Lehane (free) and JJ Hutchinson swapped points, but Mahony, inevitably, chipped in with late frees to see the home side over the line.
Late on, Midleton tried to conjure up the winning goal, but an unlucky bounce denied them the chance.
Midleton boss Fitzgerald was left rueing the goal his side conceded: “That’s the cut and thrust of it. The ball breaks, you need to be on the ball the whole time.
We had a couple of opportunities, we were fierce unlucky in the second-last play that the ball just bounced the wrong way; if we had got that, we’d be extra-time now, but that’s just the nature of the thing.
For Ballygunner it was a valuable test ahead of the Munster clubs semi-final; they have been so dominant in Waterford that this was the first time this season they trailed at half-time in a game.
“Last year, we were down to Sixmilebridge in Munster at half-time and came back to win it,” said Hartley.
“There’s great character in those boys, and I didn’t doubt them. I couldn’t know if we’d win the game, but I knew for sure they’d come out and empty the tank and they did.
“If that was good enough, it was good enough, and it just got us over the line.”
Scorers for Ballygunner:
Pauric Mahony (0-12, 11 frees, 1 65); C. Power (1-1); T. O’Sullivan (0-2); P. Hogan, B. O’Keeffe, JJ Hutchinson (0-1 each).
Scorers for Midleton:
C. Lehane (1-4, 1-3 frees); C. Beausang (1-2, 0-1 sideline); C. Walsh (0-3); L. O’Farrell, P. White, L. Dineen (0-1 each).
S. O’Keeffe (JC), E. Hayden, B. Coughlan, I. Kenny, Philip Mahony, W. Hutchinson, B. O’Keeffe, H. Barnes, S. O’Sullivan (JC), Pauric Mahony, Barry O’Sullivan, Brian O’Sullivan, T. O’Sullivan, M. Mahony, C. Power.
P. Hogan for W. Hutchinson (HT); JJ Hutchinson for Barry O’Sullivan (45).
T. Wallace, S. Smyth, F. O’Mahony, L. Dineen, E. Moloney, S. O’Leary-Hayes, J. Nagle, P. Haughney, S. O’Farrell, C. Walsh, C. Lehane, T. O’Connell, C. Beausang, L. O’Farrell, P. White.
R. O’Regan for Dineen (56); G. Manley for White (57); A. Ryan for Haughney (59).
J. Murphy (Limerick).
*Before the game there was a minute’s silence in memory of the late Pat McCarthy of Ballygunner.