MUNSTER CLUB IHC SEMI-FINAL BALLYDUFF...................2-13 BALLYBROWN...............0-14
FIRST things first, a question for those of you how were in Kilmallock on Saturday afternoon: have you caught your breath back yet?
If you haven't it wouldn't in the least bit surprise us for it was an absolute cracker. No caveats. No nothing. This was the real day. A riproaring, grab you by the scruff of the neck contest that swung one way then that before the dial finally pointed in Ballyduff's direction.
Once they got into their stride Ballyduff were simply magnificent. That it took them a while to find their stride was no surprise. Ballybrown had the benefit of two Munster championship fixtures coming into this game. Ballyduff had the benefit of a North Kerry football championship match against Knocknagoshel and a county hurling league final against Kilmoyley. In terms of preparation for a big match such as this there was no comparison and yes it did tell. Ballybrown mightn't have been world beaters, but they were a good, solid, strong hurling team that played to their strengths.
They were sharper and faster to much of the early ball and where Ballyduff struggled to make the ball stick inside they were able to get hold of the ball and draw frees from a Ballyduff defence coming to terms with a higher standard of hurling than they'd experienced all year. As the game wore on Ballyduff's sharpness improved. Their defence tightened up. They gave away fewer frees and without frees to pop over the bar through full-forward Alan O'Connor Ballybrown's attack wasn't overly impressive.
Michael Kiely and Lee Doolin showed flashes, Mark Griffin was big and strong and caused problems, but by and large a Ballyduff defence spearheaded by the magnificent Liam Boyle at full-back coped admirably well.
Jason Bowler, David Goulding and Padraig O'Grady's contributions need to be mentioned here too. They all held up their end of the bargain. As we already said, in the first half the ball just wasn't sticking inside as well as they might have liked. The positioning of Gary O'Brien at centreforward just didn't work out as Richie Kenny dominated the central channel.
You couldn't say the same about Mikey Boyle's positioning at wing-forward. He was Ballyduff's primary ball winner for much of the game and the first half especially. He got the game's opening score having fielded his own ball. Despite certain problems with their game, it was quite a positive start by Ballyduff. They were level two points apiece after ten minutes. They were three points apiece after seventeen minutes.
They went three clear shortly after with Aidan Boyle once again showing what an asset he is to the green with yet another well taken goal – at that stage of the game he remained Ballyduff's sole goal scorer in championship this season.
What followed Boyle's goal was Ballybrown's best period of dominance in the game. The move of Aidan Boyle to centre-forward with O'Brien moving to full-forward didn't seem to make much of a difference and with O'Connor and Griffin threatening at the other end of the pitch the Limerick champions gradually began to make best use of their superior match sharpness.
By the half-time whistle they'd levelled the game up. A situation Ballyduff wouldn't have been at all disappointed with and yet the momentum was all with Ballybrown. They carried that momentum with them into the second half. Four points on the bounce put Ballyduff on the back foot and yet even then they weren't out of sight. Four points is nothing in a game of hurling and that's precisely what Ballyduff proved.
Padraig Boyle had been repositioned in and around the half-forward line and while he didn't impress in the first half in the corner (although he could have had a goal early in the game) he was the equal of his brother Mikey in the second. He got into the game. Gary O'Brien was put back on the forty and got into the game. Slowly Ballyduff started to turn the screw.
After Ballyduff had one goal chance – and it was a real beauty too, with Gary O'Brien, Aidan Boyle and Mikey Boyle all involved – just miss the target, Ballybrown would have felt reasonably confident they had they game won. Another Alan O'Connor free just after Boyle's near miss made it a four point game with five minutes to go. Game over? You got to be kidding me. Ballyduff were by then playing some really great hurling. Far better hurling than anything Ballybrown had managed in the preceding fifty or so minutes.
They'd breached the Ballybrown defence before, they'd surely get another chance to do so again. They did and when it came it came in the familiar guise of Aidan Boyle and Gary O'Brien with the former setting the latter up for a goal that ended Boyle's hegemony. It was sweet as a nut and rocked Ballybrown back on their heels. In fact they never recovered from it. Ballyduff pushed hard for the equaliser and got it with Bobby O'Sullivan calmly slotting over at the death. The momentum had swung and swung decisively.
The effects of that extratime and replay, that proved so beneficial for much of the match, were now beginning to take their toll on Ballybrown. In the first period of extra-time Ballyduff blitzed them. They were energetic and hungry and scored five without reply (three O'Sullivan frees and two exquisitely taken Padraig Boyle frees) to wrap the game up essentially. Ballybrown needed a goal. Ballyduff dropped back. Ballybrown sent in plenty of ball into the square, but the Kerry champs were more than a match for it with Liam Boyle standing tall and snapping it up.
The best Ballybrown could do was a single score at the beginning of the half through sub Adrian Cliffe one which Ballyduff countered with a late Bobby O'Sullivan insurance score.
The better team won the day. The better hurling team most certainly one. The Ballyduff of twelve months ago are back.
There's no limit now to what they can achieve now that the Limerick monkey of the previous two seasons is off their back. BALLYDUFF: PJ O'Gorman, David O'Grady, Liam Boyle, Jason Bowler, Joe Bunyan, Padraig O'Grady, David Goulding, Barry O'Grady, Paud Costello, Mikey Boyle (0-1), Gary O'Brien (1-0), Pat Joe Connolly (0-1), Padraig Boyle (0-2), Aidan Boyle (0-1), Bobby O'Sullivan (0-9, 8f, 1 '65) Subs: Ally O'Connor for D Goulding, Thomas O'Rourke for PJ Connolly, Martin O'Connor for P Costello, PJ Connolly for B O'Grady, Eddie Joy for G O'Brien, P Costello for L Boyle BALLYBROWN: David Lyons, Roddy Burke Jnr, James Kennedy, Stephen O'Reilly, Ian Burke, Richie Kenny (0-1), Des Kenny, Stephen Foster (0-1), James Hall, Kyle Loftus, Bryan Griffin (0-1), Shane Kenny (0-1), Michael Kiely (0-1), Alan O'Connor (0-6, 5f), Lee Doolin (0-2) Subs: Adrian Roberts for I Burke, David Hall for M Kiely, Brian Quinn for K Loftus, Patrick McCarthy for L Doolin, Adrian Cliffe (0-1) for S Foster, David REFEREE: Pat Casey (Waterford)