GREATER experience at this level, greater ability in the air, and above all, greater hunger, that’s what saw Waterford champions Ballygunner ease their way past a weary-looking Drom & Inch side in this Munster Club SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium yesterday.
Five points was the margin at the end but had the Gunners had their sights properly aligned — they shot 16 wided- it would have been much more.
Just a single point separated the sides at the break, the Gunners leading 1-6 to 0-8, their goal of the fortunate variety.
Drom & Inch corner-back Mike Costello flicked the ball away from full-forward Stephen Power only to see it break to JJ Hutchinson, standing in splendid isolation yards from goal – JJ made no mistake.
The respective free-takers were doing most of the scoring. Seamus Callanan, suffering from flu since Friday, wasn’t at all his usual fluid self but still banged over four frees, & while another county star, young Pauric ‘Páidí’ Mahony had five points for Ballygunner, three of those from frees.
Consider those nine wides, however, six of those in the last seven minutes, against just three in total from Drom & Inch, and Ballygunner selector Padraig Connolly reckoned they had much to be concerned about at the break.
“We certainly had – I counted seven wides that were definitely scoreable. Only a point up but we felt we were the better team, on top and hurling better than them; we just weren’t pushing home on the scoreboard and that was a worry.
“But we said to them — there’s no panic, we’re the better side, keep going, keep doing the but be a bit more clinical in with the finishing.”
They actually began the second half with another bad wide, from the normally deadly Páidí Mahony, who made up for that miss with a point within minutes. Then, in the 33rd minute, came the clinical finishing Padraig was looking for.
A huge clearance from man-of-the-match Wayne Hutchinson (one of those, along with Andy Moloney and Shane O’Sullivan, who helped Ballygunner to dominate the air) found Brian O’Sullivan in behind the Drom & Inch cover; Brian bore down on keeper Damien Young, a neat side-step, then a one-handed finish to the gaping net – 2-7 to 0-8.
Against a suffocating Gunners defence, Drom & Inch now found themselves facing a mountain, but they began the climb. Points from Johnny Ryan (now at wing-forward) and wing-back James Ryan, along with two pointed frees by Callanan, brought the deficit down to four in the 45th minute (2-8 to 0-12, Mahony with another pointed free for Ballygunner), but when the Waterford champions then went on an unanswered four-point run (Brian O’Sullivan with two, Stephen Power and Páidí Mahony one each) to go two goals clear, only ten minutes left to play, it looked all over.
The sides then exchanged points but with only five minutes to play, a Drom & Inch goal was what the game needed to keep the attendance of just 2,183 interested, and a Drom & Inch goal was what we got, Seamus Callanan on the end of a David Butler cross after the same player collected the rebound from the post of his own point effort. 2-13 to 1-13, it was now back in the melting-pot.
But not for the first time in the game it was Ballygunner showing the greater ball-winning ability, the greater support play, the greater appetite for the win, finished with two points.
“We’re hungry for it because we want to win,” said Connolly, “but this is a quarter-final, only gets us into a semi-final against Na Piarsaigh and I can tell you now, from what I’ve seen of them, I’d be worried — they’re a serious outfit.” So are the Gunners, very serious this year.
Scorers for Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 0-9 (0-6f); Brian O’Sullivan 1-2; JJ Hutchinson 1-0; S Power 0-2; S O’Sullivan, Barry O’Sullivan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Drom & Inch: S Callanan 1-6 (0-6f); Johnny Ryan 0-3; James Ryan, James Woodlock, S Butler, D Collins, 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER: S O’Keeffe; A Kirwan, B Coughlin, W Kiely; W Hutchinson, Phillip Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, D O[Sullivan; Pauric Mahony, S O[Sullivan, B Mullane; JJ Hutchinson, S Power, B O[Sullivan.
Subs: Barry O’Sullivan (D O’Sullivan 56).
DROM & INCH: D Young; Martin Butler, Michael Butler, M Costello; P Stapleton, E Buckley, James Ryan; Johnny Ryan, S Callanan (c), D Collins; P Lupton, D Ryan, D Butler.
Subs: K Butler (Martin Butler inj. 28); S Delaney (D Ryan 30); P Kennedy (Johnny Ryan 54).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).
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