NOT a vintage performance from the defending Champions Ballyduff in the second game of a double header in the Austin Stack Park last Sunday afternoon, but it was still sufficient to see off a quite brave and spirited Ballyheigue challenge.
The seasiders kept pace, from the outset to the final whistle, but lacked a scoring spread in their attack. Ballyduff in this respect were just marginally better, but were able to introduce a trump card from the bench. Thomas O'Rourke entered the fray at the start of the second half and his five points tally, all from play, were ultimately hugely instrumental in his sides success. In terms of turning the tide in Ballyduff's favour it was a master stroke.
Initially, Ballyheigue were well equal to the Ballyduff challenge with Jerry Crean pointing them into an early lead. Level on two points a piece after ten minutes, Ballyduff subsequently benefited from the defence splitting runs and clinical finishing of Bobby O'Sullivan. The withdrawal of Shane Dunne with an injury was a blow to Ballyheigue chances and they were kept afloat by the return of Mike Slattery from placed balls, but with Paud Costelloe and Ally O'Connor hurling with a lot of industry and energy and Liam Boyle comfortable and in control in the pivotal full-back position Ballyduff assumed a marginal lead on the scoreboard with Padraig Boyle under pressure lending two superb efforts.
Three points in front (07/0-4) at half-time, having lost midfielder Martin O'Connor through injury in the very first minute Ballyduff needed to increase the level of their performance to see off a spirited Ballyheigue challenge. They restarted with a number of positional switches, bringing Gary O'Brien to midfield and Padraig Boyle to wing-forward. However, it was the introduction and input of Thomas O'Rourke which really had the biggest bearing on the eventual outcome.
Indeed, they had to dig deep after Ballyheigue had levelled matters within four minutes of the restart with two excellent scores from Mike Slattery and another from Philip Lucid. With the initiative slipping from them Ballyduff needed to reorganise their formation and the transfer of Padraig
O'Grady to full-back in an effort to curtail the effectiveness of Mike Slattery and the relocation of Liam Boyle at centre half-back helped greatly to stabilise matters.
Despite the heroic efforts of Mike Lucid, Jason Casey, Jason Griffin, Diarmuid Walsh and Jerry Crean, Ballyheigue's scoring returns dried up for a prolonged period. A hattrick of unanswered points by Thomas O'Rourke in a purple patch between the ninth and fourteenth minutes opened up a significant scoring gap in Ballyduff's favour and it was a lead they never subsequently surrendered. O 'Rourke added two more before the final whistle and his five point return could indeed have been even more considering that he was off target with a few more relatively easy chances. Ballyheigue did finish with a flourish which yielded points from Diarmuid Walsh, Francis Flaherty and a converted 65' from Mike Slattery. However, Ballyduff were well equal to this late surge and held out for a narrow if overall deserved success.
However, they will be only two well aware that some improvement is required if their aspirations of a three in a row are to be realised. BALLYDUFF: PJ O'Gorman, Jason Bowler, Liam Boyle, David O'Grady, Ally O'Connor, Padraig O'Grady, Anthony O'Carroll, Paud Costelloe, Martin O'Connor, Bobby O'Sullivan (0-5, 3f), Eddie Joy (0-1), Gary O'Brien, Padraig Boyle (0-2), Aidan Boyle, Pat Joe Connolly. Subs: John Paul Leah for Martin O'Connor, Thomas O'Rourke (0-5) for JP Leahy, David Goulding for E Joy, Kevin O'Connor for PJ Connolly BALLYHEIGUE: John Healy, Colin Mahony, Michael Lucid, Damien Casey, Jason Griffin, Jason Casey, Mike O'Halloran, Diarmuid Walsh (01), Tommy O'Connor, Sean Colgan Jerry Crean (0-1), Tomas Casey, Shane Dunne, Mike Slattery (0-6, 4f), Philip Lucid (0-1) Subs: Francis Flaherty (0-1) for S Dunne, Mark Dineen for S Colgan, Kevin O'Mahony for T O'Connor, John M Carroll for T Casey REFEREE: John Healy (Clare)