BALLYGUNNER 4-12; LISMORE 1-16 BATTLING Ballygunner's ninth Waterford senior hurling crown arrived to the accompaniment of calls for county unity at Walsh Park yesterday.
"I look forward to the day that Ballygunner men and Lismore men and Mount Sion men and all other club men stand side-by-side in Croke Park winning national honours for Waterford," bellowed winning captain, Billy O'Sullivan, to a sun-splashed throng estimated at 9,000.
It put an appropriate signature across this free-wheeling county final which will have given new Waterford manager, Justin McCarthy, abundant food for thought.
The new champions had to survive a furious battle against their western rivals (who led 0-7 to 0-2 after 12 minutes) to obliterate the notion that their era of county primacy had ended in last year's final defeat by Mount Sion. A measure of their discomfort was the emergency introduction of Paul Flynn after just twenty minutes, his right hand heavily strapped to protect a fractured finger.
Given time, the county star supplied trademark, attacking venom. But he was, clearly, yards short of his best.
Goals won the day for Ballygunner, two of them arriving in an extraordinary shell-burst of activity approaching half-time. O'Sullivan blazed home the first after 26 minutes but, seconds later, Dan Shanahan placed Sean "Growler" Daly for a textbook Lismore riposte at the far end.
Virtually from the puck-out, Flynn couriered a ball in from the left-wing and former Tipperary panellist, Andy Moloney, blazed high and emphatically past Brendan Landers to leave Ballygunner leading 2-8 to 1-10.
As the green flag went up, a scuffle erupted down-field, enlivened by contributors from both benches that would, no doubt, have drawn a doleful smile from Brian O'Meara had he seen them. Referee, Pat Walsh, contented himself with a solitary booking for Whitty in the Ballygunner goal.
A tone of belligerence blazed now and, when team-captain - O'Sullivan - had a goal disallowed for "square-ball" on the stroke of half-time, Flynn was booked for his response.
Still, with 13 minutes remaining, hope prevailed for the outsiders as they stretched 1-16 to 2-10 clear, points from Dave Bennett and midfielder, Paul Prendergast, especially catching the eye. But there was a sense that each Lismore score was merely a suspension of reality. And so it came to pass.
Ten minutes from time, a billowing run by Mick Mahony drew the Lismore cover and when, at the second attempt, he despatched inside to Darragh O'Sullivan, the finish was rudimentary. Flynn quickly added a free and then the moment that broke Lismore.
Daly made a wonderful catch on the edge of the Ballygunner 'square', turned and whipped a fine, goal-bound shot only to see it brilliantly deflected by Whitty. Almost immediately, Tony Carroll pointed economically at the far end.
Flynn was now loitering alone in red and black at full-forward and, three minutes from time, he materialised with sliotar in hand from Darragh O'Sullivan's flick to bury the final nail in Lismore's casket. Game over.
Or, for Waterford hurling, perhaps game on.
SCORERS Ballygunner: B O'Sullivan 1-2, P Flynn 1-2 (0-2 frees), D O'Sullivan and A Moloney 1-0 each, S Frampton 0-3 (frees), T Carroll 0-2, A Hearne and M Mahony 0-1 each, P Foley 0-1 free. Lismore: D Bennett 0-10 (0-7 frees), S Daly 1-1, D Shanahan 0-2, P Prendergast, S Kearney and E Bennett 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER R Whitty; N O'Donnell, A Kirwan, R O'Sullivan; S Frampton, F Hartley, C Kehoe; T Fives, A Hearne; M Mahony, A Moloney, T Carroll; B O'Sullivan, P Foley, D O'Sullivan. Subs: P Flynn for Carroll (20min), P Power for Kehoe (25 min), Carroll for Fives (50 min), Kehoe for Mahony (53 min).
LISMORE B Landers; Mark O'Sullivan, P Howard, Michael O'Sullivan; S Prendergast, J O'Connor, W Cunningham; P Prendergast, D O'Gorman; D Shanahan, B Prendergast, D Bennett; S Kearney, S Daly, E Bennett. Subs: M Hickey for Kearney (15 min), P Quinn for Hickey (49 min).
REF P Walsh (Fourmilewater).