'Gunner tempo too hot for Drom
Tipp champs 'pushed around' by Deise kingpins
Heartache doesn't drag its heels catching up on new heroes and, at around 3.30 yesterday, the soft murmur of regret carried down the corridor from a Drom and Inch dressing-room, now doubling as an infirmary.
Two weeks after lifting their first Dan Breen Cup, they'd taken a shot at Munster and been left traumatised. Ballygunner, the Waterford champions, just pushed them around Semple Stadium like bouncers keen to clear a hall.
"In my heart, I probably knew it was too much to ask," sighed Drom selector Martin Butler senior. "But you always hope!"
That hope was challenged from early morning, Liam Ryan waking under attack from some kind of fever. He tried to do the warm-up, but was soon being led disconsolately away, a selector's arm across his shoulder.
Then, just before the throw-in, Seamus Callanan came to the side of the field and threw up. Maybe it was nerves, but Drom didn't look like a team going to battle on its toes.
Butler's own son, Martin junior, would be helped ashore after 27 minutes, clutching his chest and gasping for breath like a man released from a mine shaft. Ballygunner watched all this local commotion with a gentle ambivalence. It wasn't their job to commission pity.
They looked faster, stronger and better all through. In fact, if it wasn't for an epidemic of wides (16), they might -- as Butler candidly averred -- have won by "maybe 20 points".
The Waterford men were superior in all facets, dominating the puck-out stats through Wayne Hutchinson and Shane O'Sullivan and always looking the more potent attacking unit. Callanan, clearly, wasn't firing on all cylinders for Drom and -- save a late and spectacular goal -- found himself largely corralled and nullified.
Yet, Pauric Mahony was uncharacteristically profligate with the frees for Ballygunner, spilling six wides and allowing the new Tipp champions stay within a range that kept the 3,000 or so attendance reasonably engaged.
This was a surprise, given JJ Hutchinson had goaled for Ballygunner in the seventh minute, pulling first-time past Damien Young after Stephen Power unwisely resisted the option when Andy Moloney's splendid delivery reached him on the edge of the square.
A beautiful brace of points on the run from Mahony had Ballygunner two to the good after 18 minutes, by which time Drom had sent Callanan in to catch his breath at full-forward.
That meant he was, essentially, out of reach to the rest of his team as the Tipp men just seemed incapable of bypassing the Ballygunner half-back line, where Hutchinson was repeating his county final heroics.
Yet, James Woodlock, Seamus Butler and the excellent Johnny Ryan all picked off long-range scores to send Drom to their tea just one point adrift and, mathematically, still on their opponents' shoulder.
This, we suspected, might prove to be an illusion. And sure enough, three minutes after the resumption, Hutchinson's delivery broke behind the Drom full-back line, Brian O'Sullivan batting a nonchalant, one-handed finish.
Now five ahead, that should have been a signal for the Waterford men to stretch into the distance. But Eamon Buckley now began hurling up a storm for Drom and they picked off four of the next five scores to leave Ballygunner breathing a little cagily at 2-8 to 0-12 ahead with 15 minutes remaining.
Their manager, Niall O'Donnell, now had JJ Hutchinson out supplementing the midfield, given the task of harvesting breaking ball. And it was working up to a point. That point being the ongoing wastefulness inside.
"We made hard work of it," O'Donnell would admit later.
"But the one positive is, we put ourselves in the positions to get those wides. Hopefully, the next day they'll go over the bar.
"Our backs, I thought, were exceptional. We did a lot of work on Drom and Inch and, while we thought they had a few weaknesses in defence, we felt they had exceptional forwards. But our backs did very well on them."
Slowly, almost reluctantly, they began to pull away. Points from Mahony, Brian O'Sullivan (two) and Stephen Power (two) had them six points clear with three minutes of normal time remaining when Drom were thrown an improbable lifeline.
A terrific run by David Butler looked to have come to nothing when his shot came back off an upright. But Ballygunner failed to tidy and the sliotar found its way back out to Callanan who, for once, wasn't in the company of a jailer.
His lift and strike were sublime, the net behind Stephen O'Keeffe almost coming off its hinges.
Just a goal in it then, but, straight from the puck-out, Shane Walsh fed substitute Barry O'Sullivan for a classy Ballygunner riposte.
And the remainder of the game was played out, largely, around the Killinan goal, Barry O'Sullivan and JJ Hutchinson spilling late wides (Ballygunner's 15th and 16th) before Mahony made the final insert in the ledger with an injury-time free.
The Waterford champions had stand-out performers in Wayne Hutchinson, Shane O'Sullivan Mahony, Harley Barnes, Andy Moloney, Brian O'Sullivan and Stephen Power.
Drom's best were Buckley, Paul Stapleton, James and Johnny Ryan and the hard-working Woodlock. But their captain and talisman, Callanan, was palpably under the weather and they simply did not have the forward power to compensate for his difficulties.
Ballygunner now meet Limerick champions, Na Piarsaigh, in a home Munster semi-final on Sunday week.
SCORERS -- Ballygunner: P Mahony 0-9 (6f), Brian O'Sullivan 1-2, JJ Hutchinson 1-0, S Power 0-2, S O'Sullivan and Barry O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Drom and Inch: S Callanan 1-6 (6f), Johnny Ryan 0-3, James Ryan, J Woodlock, S Butler and D Collins 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER -- S O'Keeffe; A Kirwan, B Coughlan, W Kiely; W Hutchinson, P Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, D O'Sullivan; P Mahony, S O'Sullivan, A Moloney; JJ Hutchinson, S Power, Brian O'Sullivan. Sub: Barry O'Sullivan for D O'Sullivan (56).
DROM AND INCH -- D Young; Martin Butler, Micheal Butler, M Costello; P Stapleton, E Buckley, James Ryan; Johnny Ryan, J Woodlock; S Butler, S Callanan, D Collins; P Lupton, D Ryan, D Butler. Subs: K Butler for Martin Butler (27), S Delaney for D Ryan (h-t); P Kennedy for Johnny Ryan (54).
Ref -- C Lyons (Cork)