Ballygunner made it six Waterford senior hurling titles in a row yesterday, with this Waterford SHC title, showing all their experience in seeing off a spirited De La Salle side.
A nine-point winning margin was a fair reflection of Ballygunner’s closing burst, though it doesn’t do justice to their opponents’ efforts: they came from nine points down in the first half to trail by two, and the margin was also two entering the final quarter.
However, all the key qualities of Ballygunner’s dominance clicked into place, with Pauric Mahony metronomic and their defence shutting down any possible goal chances. The winners hit 0-9 and conceded only 0-2 in the final quarter.
“It’s massive for us,” said Ballygunner boss Darragh O’Sullivan afterwards.
“You saw how deep we had to go in that second half - we were nine points up and they brought it back to two, and they were playing with the elements.
When you question these lads, they really dig deep - you saw the performance they gave in the last 20 minutes, it was inspiring for all of us.
“We were under no illusions, we knew we’d have to dig deep today - they’re a phenomenal side too, in fairness, and you can see how strong they’ve become in the last 12 months. They’ll be back - De La Salle will be back.”
Ballygunner started at a gallop - aided by the breeze, they led 1-7 to 0-1 by the end of the first quarter, that goal created by a good Michael Mahony run and pass to Dessie Hutchinson, whose finish was emphatic.
De La Salle knuckled down and when a sideline cut broke for Eddie Meaney, he finished to the net. Jake Dillon and Meaney hit points and the challengers were in full pursuit, benefiting from long ball into the Ballygunner full-back line.
A Meaney point made it a three-point game near the break, but the Gunners’ experience showed in two Mahony frees in injury-time: 1-11 to 1-6 at half-time.
Ballygunner kept their opponents at bay, maintaining a decent lead, early in the second half before a De La Salle purple patch: points from Shane McNulty (65), Shane McCann (two) and Meaney: 1-13 to 1-15 going into the final quarter.
De La Salle had the breeze and were motoring well, but the champions stopped them in their tracks. In five minutes, Pauric Mahony, Paddy Leavy, Peter Hogan (two) and Barry O’Sullivan snapped over five points in a row to make it 1-20 to 1-13 going into the last 10 minutes.
De La Salle needed a goal at that stage to have any chance but with defenders like Philip Mahony and Barry Coughlan barring the way for Ballygunner that was always going to be a tall order.
In truth the champions saw out the remaining time with ease, taking the right option over and over again to punish the challengers. Over the years Ballygunner’s ability to find the room to take long-range points - sparing themselves the punishment of working the ball nearer goal - has stood to them, and it helped again yesterday. Their work-rate and knowhow must surely stand to them in the provincial competition, but they had to take care of business locally to reach that level.
No surprise, said manager O’Sullivan.
“We’re absolutely proud of our lads.
“I’ll get emotional here, but they’re a phenomenal bunch of people. You put them together, they live together, they’re friends, they’re together out in Grow HQ on Saturday or Sunday morning having their breakfast together.
We’re so lucky to have them in Ballygunner. These guys are driven. They’re driven for the jersey they wear.
“Six in a row is phenomenal, and to get that hunger every year. The dressing-room in Clonea for the first-round game - that’s where this was won, because they were going again. And that’s testament to those guys.”
P Mahony (0-12, 5 frees)(frees); D Hutchinson (1-3); P Hogan (0-3); C Sheahan (0-2); P Leavy, B O’Sullivan, T O’Sullivan, C Power (0-1 each).
E Meaney (1-3); C McCann, J Dillon, J Fagan (0-3 each); T Douglas, A Farrell, S McNulty (65) (0-1 each).
S O’Keeffe, E Hayden, I. Kenny, B O’Keeffe, C Sheahan, Philip Mahony (c), B Coughlan, M Mahony, S O’Sullivan, D Hutchinson, Pauric Mahony, B O’Sullivan, P Hogan, T O’Sullivan, P Leavy.
C Power (jc) for T O’Sullivan (45); W Hutchinson for Sheahan and JJ Hutchinson for Leavy (60); B Power for O’Keeffe (61).
S O’Brien, R Duke, C Giles Doran, M Doherty, S McNulty, K Moran T Moran, E Barrett, A Farrell, P Nevin, J Dillon, J Fagan, E Meaney, T Douglas, C McCann.
S Ryan for Nevin (45); D Twomey for Farrell (51).
M O’Brien (Portlaw).