HOW often does it happen? The game we build up, the game we expect the world of, disappoints.
Last year we expected a Ballyduff coronation and got a battle for the ages. This year we came expecting a battle for the ages and instead got a Ballyduff coronation. A six point margin hardly flatters Lixnaw when you consider how close they were on the scoreboard for so much of this match. By the same token the gulf in class wasn't truly reflected on the scoreboard until Ballyduff began to pull away in the final ten or fifteen minutes of this game.
They led by eight points with less than a minute of ordinary time remaining. They deserved every single point of that lead and yet it would take a curlish man to deny Lixnaw their dues for battling to the end and snatching that last gasp goal by Michael Conway. It came too late, of course. Ten minutes earlier it would have made all the difference. Then again ten minutes earlier Ballyduff were in no mood to allow their opponents any latitude.
That's not to take away from the quality of the goal by Conway. He got up above Liam Boyle, who was majestic all afternoon, and finished to the back of PJ O'Gorman's net with aplomb. The biggest problem with it was that it was only Lixnaw's second score from play in the entire game. The other was a James Flaherty point early in the second half. That's not good enough to win a county championship.
Lixnaw will know this better than anybody. Ricky Heffernan was near flawless from the placed ball, no question about that, but where were the Lixnaw scorers from play? With the breeze at their back into the Mitchels' end in the first half they really needed to test the Ballyduff full-back line. Strangely they started (but later moved) James Flaherty on Liam Boyle. You'd have thought they would have wanted to test Boyle's mettle by placing Steven Power at the edge of the square and peppering him with ball.
You'd have thought they might have wanted to stretch the Ballyduff fullback line by having Flaherty run wide and at pace. It never really happened. When long ball went in the full-back was on top of his brief. The half-back line was exceptional. Sure they coughed up a few frees, maybe some they could have avoided, but that's hurling, frees are conceded from time to time. Ballyduff, meanwhile, seemed to be playing well within themselves.
They had two early chances at goals – neither of which were taken. Padraig Boyle had an early effort saved, before Bobby O'Sullivan's missed an open goal having recieved the ball from Aidan Boyle with six minutes gone. That suggested an urgency to Ballyduff's play that simply wasn't there for the rest of the half. They were happy to stay within a few points of Lixnaw, safe in the knowledge that they would have the breeze at their backs into the second half.
Despite not playing as well as they can they still led by a couple of points into the final ten minutes of the half. The advantage was very much with them. Even if they had gone in at half-time level they would have been happy. The fact they went in with a lead at the break owed something to luck – or bad luck depending on which way you look at it. Bobby O'Sullivan was tasked with taking a free out by the sideline with about eight minutes remaining on the clock.
He floated it into the square and it found its way into the back of Martin Stackpoole's net. At the time it was felt nobody got a touch on it, but in interviews afterwards Aidan Boyle confirmed he got the slightest of touches on it. That gave Ballyduff a five point lead – one that Lixnaw managed to whittle down to three before the half-time break.
They brought on Michael Conway early in the second half, however, his influence, when it was felt, was felt too late. Lixnaw continued to struggle to create. James Flaherty got the half's first score. Their first from play. It proved a false dawn. They managed to stay in touch with frees as Ballyduff found it difficult to break down an impressive Lixnaw rearguard – Pat Corridan will be very happy with his afternoon's work on Aidan Boyle overall.
With forty five minutes played Lixnaw had edged to within two. Just a puck of a ball. The realisation that despite all their fine play they were vulnerable seemed to spur Ballyduff into action. Mikey Boyle came to the fore on the halfforward line, Aidan Boyle dropped deeper to get on the ball, Thomas O'Rouke came off the bench to hit a couple of valuable scores. Padraig Boyle hit his first of the day. In the next ten minutes they outscored Lixnaw seven points to one – the Lixnaw point, predictably enough, came from a free.
The game was over. Ballyduff were champions. Not even Michael Conway's valliant resistance could alter that. BALLYDUFF: PJ O'Gorman, David O'Grady, Liam Boyle, Jason Bowler, Ally O'Connor, Padraig O'Grady, David Goulding, Martin O'Connor, Paud Costello, Mikey Boyle (0-3), Gary O'Brien, Barry O'Grady, Padraig Boyle (0-1), Aidan Boyle (1-1), Bobby O'Sullivan (0-8, 5f) Subs: Thomas O'Rourke (0-2) for M O'Connor, Pat Joe Connolly for G O'Brien LIXNAW: Martin Stackpoole, Conor Fitzmaurice Pat Corridan, Raymond Galvin, Trevor McKenna, Declan McCarthy, John Griffin, Fergus Fitzmaurice, Enda Galvin, Stephen Power, Conor O'Brien, Cillian Fitzmaurice, James Flaherty (0-1), Ricky Heffernan (08f) Subs: Michael Conway (1-0) for E Galvin, Gary Hogan for S Power REFEREE: Shane Hourig a n ( Limerick)