Title number 24. Three in-a-row. Makes nice reading out Ballyduff way. Less so in Lixnaw.
The hoodoo continues. Their poor run in finals continues. Right now it hurts. Hurts badly. What will hurt them most of all is that they could have played a whole lot better than they did. Whether it would have been enough, of course, is open to question. Really that's sort of beside point. When you play in a county final your aim is to give it your best shot. When you don't you're left with that nagging feeling forever more – what might have been.
The fact that Ballyduff hardly lit the place up will only add to the sense of regret on the other side of the Ballinagar Bridge. Despite playing as poorly as the most pessimistic amongst their support would have feared they might, Lixnaw were still in with a chance heading down the back straight. The scoreboard on the Horan's End read Ballyduff 1-7 Lixnaw 0-8. Two points down with sixteen minutes to go. If you'd had offered it to manager Thomas Fitzmaurice beforehand he probably would have taken it.
Ballyduff haven't been finishing strongly this year. His men have. The fact they had played poorly up until that point would have given them hope that just the slightest up-tick in performance could have seen them over the line. To be fair, to describe this Lixnaw performance as poor is somewhat harsh. Their backs played really well. Pat Corridan was the master of his domain at fullback for the enitre sixty minutes. Maurice Corridan had kept Mikey Boyle quiet in the first half.
The one worry for them back there was ease with which Padraig Boyle seemed to be able to pull away from Raymond Galvin. Once they swapped Declan McCarthy with Galvin that problem seemed to be eased significantly. The biggest problem of all for Lixnaw was the lack of pressure they were putting on Ballyduff's defence. Not enough ball was sent long with the breeze at their back to test Liam Boyle at number 3. Not enough ball was sent James Flaherty's way for him to test and probe and pull apart the Ballyduff defence.
Simply put they failed to fire. In the first half they didn't manage a single point from play. John Griffin from midfield was their most frequent offensive outlet from play and both his efforts went wide of the post. The pressure he was under for both those efforts and, indeed, for the entire afternoon was arguably key to Ballyduff's victory in this county final. The Ballyduff braintrust put Paud Costello on Griffin. Griffin, Lixnaw's most effective hurler all season, was curbed. Ballyduff won the game. Paud took the Man of the Match award.
A bit too simplistic? Perhaps. One can't just criticise Lixnaw's lack of cutting edge. One must also hail Ballyduff's defence. Liam Boyle wasn't troubled until the title was in the bag with Michael Conway's late goal. Neither were Jason
Bowler or David O'Grady in the corners. The half-back line was magnificent. Young Goulding took to the county final like a duck to water. Padraig O'Grady was solid as a rock and Ally O'Connor played through the pain to keep tabs on Lixnaw's impressive young forward Conor O'Brien.
O'Brien didn't manage to score. What he did do was work hard and take the battle to Ballyduff whenever he could. Lixnaw could have done with more of his moxie. They could also have done with a little more oomph off the bench. Ballyduff were able to bring on Pat Joe Connolly and Thomas O'Rourke to shake things up – their switches worked a treat – whereas Lixnaw were limted to just one experienced player coming off the bench after Brendan Brosnan missed out through injury.
The experienced player was Michael Conway and in his time on the pitch he proved why his availability or otherwise was such a big talking point during the week. He is quite simply a fantastic hurler and Lixnaw's most potent attacking threat. Lixnaw didn't feel he had the fitness to start the game. It's a real shame that he didn't because had he started and had he been allowed to feel his way back into the game then he could have had a real impact on proceedings.
Ballyduff captain Aidan Boyle feels that they only hit 70-75% of their potential on Sunday. It's true they didn't hit the heights. They simply did what they had to do to win the match. It wasn't until they were somewhat up against it that they finally began to play like the Ballyduff we've come to know over the past three seasons. With Mikey Boyle coming on strong they began to fire the ball over the bar, seemingly at will.
Thomas O'Rourke showed his value to the cause with two super points. Aidan Boyle struck one over his shoulder. Bobby O'Sullivan continued to be effective from the placed ball (he scored some fine points from play too it shouldn't be forgotten). Ballyduff were back. They had finally clicked. They clicked for spells against Causeway, of course, but there's hardly a better time to click than with the finishing line in sight in a county final. Then again that's Ballyduff for you isn't it?
From speaking to Ballyduff people after the match it's clear their ambitions this year go beyond the race for the Neilus Flynn Cup. Don't get us wrong here, this county title means a hell of a lot to them – three in-a-row or no three in-a-row a county title is always welcome on the banks of the Cashen – it's just that having lost last year's Munster title to Effin they've got unfinished business.
If they're to achieve their aim and win the thing out this time around they're going to have to play better than they have in the county championship. Their manager PJ O'Grady recognises this. They must and can do is his take on it. We don't disagree. Having missed much of the championship it was encouraging to see just how good Mikey Boyle was in the second half.
This is the Mikey Boyle who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and bend it to his will. This is the Mikey Boyle Ballyduff will need against either the Cork or Limerick champions next month.
That's for another day to consider. For now let us hail this magnificent achievement by Ballyduff. This three in-a-row – the fourth three-in-a-row in their history – this their 24th county title. If Ballyduff prove one thing it's that much wants more. We'll have to wait another month – November 4 – to discover whether they can garner yet more this year.
You can't wait? Well neither can they.