It shouldn’t be a surprise that this epic Munster club SHC quarter-final went to extra time — Thurles Sarsfields and Ballygunner were only separated by a point in last year’s competition, after all.
THURLES SARSFIELDS ......1-19
The 2017 edition, an enthralling encounter, saw Ballygunner go through by two points in the end, and on balance they deserved it.
The Waterford side were more consistent over the hour and led going into injury-time. Credit Sars, who went out on their shields by forcing extra time, but they never hurled with the fluency they’re capable of.
“The whole game there was a puck of a ball between the teams,” said Ballygunner boss Fergal Hartley afterwards.
“Maybe when I look back on the video I might think differently but could I say that they didn’t deserve to bring the game to extra-time or that they didn’t deserve a draw at the end of extra-time? No. I would say it was absolutely 50-50, flick of a coin the whole way through.
“I did feel at one stage that we’d have had the game won but let it slip, which is something we’ll have to look at ourselves.
“Next week against Sixmilebridge — I don’t know a lot about them because we’ve been focusing completely on De La Salle last week and Thurles this week so we’ll have to do our homework but I do know that they’re a great team.”
Talking of homework, Sarsfields had clearly done theirs before yesterday’s game. They withdrew Tipperary defender Ronan Maher to the full-back line to keep an eye on Ballygunner danger man Brian O’Sullivan. At the other end of the field, Eddie Hayden of Ballygunner was dragged outfield to follow his man, Lar Corbett, who had the same roving assignment as in the Tipperary county final.
Ballygunner were on top for much of that first half — Shane O’Sullivan hit a lot of ball in midfield and the forwards in black and red were livelier than Sars’, who struggled to create space.
The Tipp side were aided by the wind in the first half, the start of which was delayed by ten minutes due to crowd congestion, and by the tenth minute Sars were two up thanks to the accuracy of Stephen Lillis, 0-4 to 0-2, only for Pauric Mahony to level matters with a brace.
By the 20th minute the Gunners had a goal, a long-range free from Mahony dipping in to deceive the Sars defenders on the goal-line; a David O’Sullivan point from the puck-out made it 1-6 to 0-6.
Ballygunner added another point, from Conor Power, as Sars hit back: Corbett and Denis Maher responded with points, and Gunner goalie Stephen O’Keeffe had to save smartly from Billy McCarthy. Mahoney converted one last free before the break: 1-8 to 0-8.
On the resumption, the Tipperary men were better in the middle of the field, with John Maher and Stephen Cahill more prominent.
The sides swapped points and then swapped frees — Mahony and Pa Bourke — maintaining that one-goal gap. Sars needed a goal, and they got it.
On 41 minutes O’Keeffe saved from McCarthy but Conor Stakelum netted from the rebound — 1-12 to 1-11, Sars ahead, though a Mahony free levelled the game within a minute.
Ballygunner sub David Walsh nudged his side one ahead going into the final ten minutes, but the Waterford men hit three consecutive wides after that, and Denis Maher levelled the game on 56 minutes.
Shane O’Sullivan and Hogan put Ballygunner two ahead on 60 minutes before Stephen Cahill made it a one-point game and the evergreen Lar Corbett levelled it in injury-time. Extra-time.
Sars began with the breeze again but Mahony opened the scoring with a free.
Both sides began to tire, but David O’Sullivan pointed, and another Mahony free gave the home side a three-point lead.
Aidan McCormack pointed a free, leaving it 1-18 to 1-16 at half-time in extra-time. Padraic Maher pointed to make it a one-point game on the resumption.
Barry O’Sullivan and Pa Bourke swapped points, keeping Ballygunner one ahead until Padraic Maher stormed up to make it a draw with three minutes left. Sub JJ Hutchinson got that all-important lead point and Mahony, inevitably, made it safe with the final point.
Sars coach Paddy McCormack was generous to the winners afterwards: “We showed a lot of character at that point, two points down and we looked to be gone.
“They fought their way back and even in extra-time when they were three points ahead we fought our way back again. It was a puck of the ball that could have gone either way.
“I said it all the week, no matter how good you are in life you need a little bit of luck along the way. We had it last year, they had it this year, and fair play to them, they got more scores than us and won the match.
“We congratulate them and wish them well, they’re a great club team and fought so hard out there. We give them all the credit they deserve for coming out on top.”
Ballygunner take on Sixmilebridge in Walsh Park next Sunday: can it be as good as yesterday’s game?
Scorers for Ballygunner:
P. Mahony (1-11, 1-6 frees); P. Hogan, D. O’Sullivan (0-2 each); Brian O’Sullivan, Barry O’Sullivan, C. Power, S. O’Sullivan, D. Walsh, JJ Hutchinson (0-1 each).
Scorers for Sarsfields:
L. Corbett (0-4); C. Stakelum (1-0); D. Maher, A. McCormack (0-1 free), P. Bourke (0-2 frees) (0-3 each); P. Maher, S. Lillis, (0-2 each); S. Cahill, B. McCarthy (0-1 each).
S. O’Keeffe, E. Hayden, B. Coughlan, I. Kenny, P Mahony, W. Hutchinson, S. Walsh (joint captain), H. Barnes, S. O’Sullivan, P. Hogan, D. O’Sullivan, P. Mahony (joint captain), C. Power, B. O’Keeffe, B. O’Sullivan.
D. Walsh for B. O’Sullivan (inj. 40); B. O’Sullivan for O’Keeffe, JJ Hutchison for Power (both 56); T. O’Sullivan for Hogan (66); C. Sheahan for S. Walsh (77); B. O’Keeffe for Barnes (79).
P. McCormack, S. Maher, C. Moloney, M. Cahill, R. Maher, P. Maher (c), S. Lillis, J. Maher, S. Cahill, B. McCarthy, A. McCormack, D. Maher, C. Stakelum, P Bourke, L. Corbett.
T. Doyle for Bourke (48); M. O’Brien for Stakelum (55); C. Stakelum for D. Maher (66); K. O’Gorman for S. Maher (HT ET); P. Bourke for Corbett (72).
C. Lyons (Cork).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved