Ballygunner 2-18 De La Salle 0-16: Not since the 1950s has club hurling in Waterford seen such domination.
It was the men from Mount Sion who ruled back then, winning a remarkable nine consecutive county titles between 1953 and 1961. Throw in their win of ’51 and hardly anyone else got a look in during that decade.
This present Ballygunner crop have a bit to go before they can be put on the same pedestal as that Mount Sion group, but Fergal Hartley’s charges are certainly right up there in terms of outstanding Waterford club teams. Just look at the winning margin from their four consecutive county final wins.
Thirteen points they had to spare over Mount Sion in 2014, four the year following against Tallow. Last year, they whipped Passage by 4-20 to 1-12. Here, the club’s first four-in-a-row was achieved with eight to spare, and this with the brakes having been applied from the 46th minute onwards, when Conor Power’s second goal propelled them 2-14 to 0-11 clear. They hurl every bit as well as they look on paper.
Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe, though he had very little to do here, is a reassuring figure for a rearguard loaded with inter-county talent. It is rare we see Barry Coughlan hurling at full-back without a sweeper positioned directly in front of him. He didn’t require additional cover yesterday, batting away a number of hopeful deliveries in on top of Paidi Nevin and Shane Ryan.
In front of him was a half-back trio which suffocated De La Salle’s most potent line. Adam Farrell, Jack Fagan, and the evergreen John Mullane all found the target from play, but were reduced to living off scraps, as Shane Walsh, Wayne Hutchinson, and, in particular, Philip Mahony consumed a significant amount of ball. Where they were most effective was reducing the length of time where the game was played out in Ballygunner’s half of the field.
With the Waterford championship in full flow since the All-Ireland final defeat to Galway, Walsh Park has played host to its fair share of games in recent times and the pitch’s heavy appearance bore testament to this. Still, this didn’t seem to hinder the Ballygunner attack, as they hit their stride from early in the proceedings. By the 12th minute, we feared yet another one-sided Waterford decider, as the reigning champions charged 1-5 to 0-2 clear.
David O’Sullivan was the busiest of the forwards, his direct running troubling the De La Salle defence. The half-forward clipped three points from play during this opening burst, with Pauric Mahony landing a monstrous free from his own ’65. Brian O’Sullivan was also among their early point-scorers and it was his dispossessing of Shane McNulty which set in train the passage of play that ended with Conor Power striking the opening goal.
De La Salle, who were chasing a fourth championship success and first since 2012, needed to rally and they did. Four of the next five scores were theirs, with Jack Fagan and John Mullane splitting the posts either side of a pair of Shane Ryan frees. The latter finished the half with four frees to his name, three points being as close as the challengers came, following Power’s opening goal.
At half-time it was 1-10 to 0-9 and, while Hartley may have been uncomfortable with the size of their lead, it was difficult to envisage a successful overtaking effort from the Gracedieu outfit. The Ballygunner manager need not have worried. Pauric Mahony slotted over two frees and when an Adam Farrell delivery to nobody was seized upon by Hutchinson, he offloaded to Shane Walsh and the joint captain sent them 1-13 to 0-9 clear.
Ryan (free) opened De La Salle’s second-half account, but when presented with another scoreable dead-ball opportunity, he opted to spray possession out to the unmarked David Greene. The pass was overcooked, with Greene fumbling the ball after retrieving it. Chance gone.
Brian O’Sullivan and Ryan (free) traded minors before Power put the contest to bed with his second goal on 46 minutes, pulling to the net after Shaun O’Brien had saved O’Sullivan’s initial effort.
In a belated throw of the dice, the De La Salle management sent Kevin Moran up the field in a bid to rescue an already lost situation. He had a shot half blocked by Shane O’Sullivan. Corner-back Ian Kenny muscled his way in between two white jerseys to claim possession. The Gunners never gave an inch.
As Hartley alluded to afterwards, their desire was reminiscent of a club who hadn’t won a county in 10 years. The roll of honour paints an altogether different picture.
Scorers for Ballygunner:
Pauric Mahony (0-9, 0-7 frees); C Power (2-0); D O’Sullivan (0-3); Brian O’Sullivan (0-2); S Walsh, S O’Sullivan, B O’Keeffe, P Hogan (0-1 each).
Scorers for De La Salle:
S Ryan (0-8, 0-8 frees); J Fagan (0-3, 0-1 sc); T Douglas (0-1 free), K Moran, P Nevin, J Mullane, A Farrell (0-1 each).
S O’Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, S O’Sullivan; D O’Sullivan, B O’Keeffe, Pauric Mahony; C Power, Brian O’Sullivan, P Hogan.
M Mahony for Hogan (53); JJ Hutchinson for Power (58); Barry O’Sullivan for B O’Keeffe (60); T O’Sullivan for David O’Sullivan (63).
De La Salle:
S O’Brien; S Dalton, M Doherty, S McNulty; T Moran, K Moran, E Madigan; E Barrett, J Dillon; A Farrell, J Fagan, J Mullane; D Greene, P Nevin, S Ryan.
E Meaney for Madigan, T Douglas for Greene (both 53 mins); C McCann for Ryan (57).
T O’Sullivan (Cappoquin).
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