Anthony Daly: Ballygunner's system was rocked but they trust it completely

Ballygunner are an incredible team and were deserving nine-point winners, but Ballyea probably couldn’t have done any more than what they produced.
Anthony Daly: Ballygunner's system was rocked but they trust it completely

JOB DONE: Ballygunner's Ian Kenny celebrates after the final whistle with Philip Mahony

At the final whistle on Saturday evening in Thurles, I got chatting to Derrick Lynch of Clare FM and the gist of our conversation was how proud we were of Ballyea as Claremen. We all fight for our own clan, to defend the honour of our own tribe, but when the Clare flag is flown on the battlefield, we take pride in how that flag is represented.

The red and black flags of Ballygunner were fluttering strongly in the breeze by the end of the game but the players decked out in black and amber colours were a credit to themselves, and to the saffron and blue. Ballygunner are an incredible team and were deserving nine-point winners, but Ballyea probably couldn’t have done any more than what they produced.

They will be disappointed with the last ten minutes and how the game got so far away from them but Ballygunner have that capacity to sprint away from any side. I was concerned going into the match that Ballyea might not have the legs, or be fresh enough, to stay with the Gunners but they matched them stride for stride for as long as they possibly could.

Ballyea had some brilliant performers throughout the side, especially James Murphy, Paul Flanagan, Brandon O’Connell, Pierce Lillis, Jack Browne and, of course Tony Kelly.

When I was walking out of the ground afterwards, I passed a host of those murals at the back of the Ryan Stand, the field of legends as it is known. I spotted murals of Maurice Fitzgerald, Eoin Kelly and Henry Shefflin but it’s surely only a matter of time before TK is staring back at us. There was 20 minutes in the first half when he was virtually unmarkable.

The beauty of sitting in the Kinnane Stand when there is nobody there is that you can see everything, both on and off the field. I counted a Ballygunner stats team of 11 bodies, compared to just two lads for Ballyea, although Ballyea probably had another couple of lads up in the press box.

I was saying to myself afterwards that if I met one of those Ballygunner stats guys that I’d have said that it took them all long enough to see how much damage Tony can inflict when he’s left in space.

In fairness to Ballygunner, they eventually got on top of that problem. Ballyea were getting plenty of joy when Philip Mahony didn’t want to follow Tony out and try and shut him down, but Conor Sheahan, who got four magnificent points against Na Piarsaigh was sacrificed to go back wing-back while Shane O’Sullivan followed Tony. I’m sure there were times when Shane was saying out to his brother Darragh, the manager, ‘Hi, I wouldn’t mind picking him up four or five years ago, but not now’.

Trailing by just three points at half-time was primarily down to TK but you almost felt that a three-point deficit was harsh on Ballyea given how well they were playing. Aaron Griffin had a goal chance just after half-time which flashed across the goal but that chance needed to go in. Ballyea were never going to get too many green flag opportunities but they needed to hit the net at least twice to have any hope.

In fairness to Shane O’Sullivan, he stuck to his task and Tony struggled to get his hands on enough ball in the last quarter. Ballyea were probably tiring at that stage after such a heroic first half but Tony just wasn’t able to get on that overlap or off the shoulder because Ballygunner were shutting those avenues down.

You have to admire Ballygunner in the way that they stuck to their guns and never altered the system they set up with. They are a very systematic team but you can see the trust they now have in their system, even if it was rocked in the first half.

Ballygunner opened up in a whirlwind with four brilliant points from Kevin Mahony and Dessie Hutchinson, but Ballyea eventually shut down that space and Flanagan did a manful job on Dessie throughout. Jack Browne thundered into the match after half time, but no matter how much Ballyea tried to stem the increasing flow, the scores just kept coming.

The strength of this Ballygunner team even from last year is reflected in the arrival of Patrick Fitzgerald, who was on fire all afternoon. Pauric Mahony is playing better now too than he was last year, especially from play, while his dead-ball striking is immaculate and ultra-precise. Peter Hogan was very effective too in patches but Ballygunner have so many weapons that it’s nearly impossible for most clubs to shut them down.

Ballyea still continued to play without fear, which has long been the emblem of this team, but they were still heavily punished any time their execution was a little off, especially on turnovers, and particularly on unforced errors. That’s what the really good teams can do to you and Ballygunner have proven themselves now to be a brilliant side.

Ballygunner are really evolving into this powerful machine. As well as having class players, they don’t do panic. Having the Tommy Moore Cup at home on the sideboard has given them that confidence, especially in the heat of the moment.

Ballygunner will enjoy this but they won’t get carried away either because the All-Ireland semi-final is coming down the tracks in two weeks' time. They have already completed their first set of business by winning Munster. But that folder will have been firmly closed by Monday morning.

Job done. Very well done. But there’s a bigger one coming. Move on.

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