Glory days here again
County PIHC Final Ballyhea 1-17 Newcestown 0-16
Following eleven frustrating years, the day of deliverance has finally arrived for the Ballyhea hurlers.
Last Sunday, they reclaimed their senior status, which they had relinquished in 2003, when coming out on top against Newcestown in an absorbing county decider. While they had to soak up some late pressure after never-say-die Newcestown, forced to play second fiddle for most of the hour, made a last-ditch effort to pull the game out of the fire, there could be no quibbling whatsoever about the merit of Ballyhea's triumph.
Simply put, they were the better team, particularly in the first half, at the end of which they weren't in the least bit flattered to lead by 1-9 to 0-6. Newcestown, to their credit, put in a stronger performance after the interval, but Ballyhea showed the facility to respond anytime their advantage was even remotely threatened until the dismissal of Neil Ronan threw the South-West side a lifeline in the 56th minute.
Trailing by 1-15 to 0-14 at the time, Newcestown bagged a quick brace of points when play resumed, but Ballyhea held their composure, with a stunning point from Pa O'Callaghan putting them back on course before substitute Eddie Rea posted the insurance score in stoppage time.
It was by no means unfitting that O'Callaghan should be the player who steadied the Ballyhea ship in the closing stages, as the prodigious 19-year old had an outstanding match at wing forward, confirming the widely-held view that he has the potential to make it at the highest level in the very near future.
He wasn't lacking in support up front, however, as Gavin Morrissey, John Morrissey and Eugene O'Leary were others to sparkle, not to mention the evergreen Ronan, who filled the role of playmaker on the '40 to perfection.
Maurice O'Sullivan, another seasoned stalwart, was also hugely influential at midfield, where Dean Copps proved an able accomplice, while Barry Coleman, team skipper Timmy Shanahan and Michael Morrissey rarely put a foot astray in a Ballyhea rearguard that was almost totally dominant as a unit in the first half.
That the Newcestown forwards registered just one point from play, which came courtesy of Fionn Keane in the fifth minute, between them before the break tells its own story.
The decision to use corner forward Daniel Twomey as a third midfield didn't work out for Newcestown in the first half when the unattended Barry Coleman mopped up an amount of ball at the back for Ballyhea.
In truth, Ballyhea held most of the aces during the opening 30 minutes, and they were quick to build on an early boost which came in the form of an opportunist goal from John Morrissey. Morrisey was on hand to apply the finish after Newcestown 'keeper Kieran Kelly had failed to control Neil Ronan's sideline ball in the seventh minute.
Morrissey's strike made it 1-1 to 0-1, but Newcestown pulled a point back before full-forward Cathrach Keane was denied a goal chance when beaten in the race for a loose ball by advancing Ballyhea 'keeper Mikey Browne two minutes later. Browne connected first-time to launch a counter-attack that yielded a point at the other end from Eugene O'Leary, who caught the eye most often up front for Ballyhea during the opening exchanges.
That was the signal for Ballyhea to click into top gear, and, with their lively attack carving out the openings virtually at will, they had stretched the gap to six points, 1-6 to 0-3, midway through the first half.
Newcestown briefly managed to stop the rot, responding with a hat-trick of points, but Ballyhea finished the first half with a flourish, completed by the best score of the match from Pa O'Callaghan. There appeared to be nothing on after O'Callaghan gained possession around the half way line, but he scorched up the left wing with the ball glued to his stick, and, without handling it, struck it over the bar from a difficult angle.
Ballyhea's finishing wasn't exactly flawless before the break, and, in clocking up seven wides to Newcestown's one, they left the door open for the Carbery men to get back into the hunt. Reverting to an orthodox formation enabled Newcestown to shape up better on the resumption, but they were unable to make significant inroads on the deficit as Ballyhea matched them score for score during the third quarter.
It wasn't until the 51st minute when Daniel Twomey, who played his heart out at midfield, converted a free that Newcestown had managed to string two scores together for the first time in the second half.
That left them trailing by 1-14 to 0-13, but Ballyhea substitute Eamonn Morrissey, placed by the ever-creative Neil Ronan, quickly pushed the North-Cork Magpies five points up again.
Even after the hard-working Cathrach Keane posted the next score for Newcestown, Ballyhea looked set to see out the game comfortably enough, but the picture changed when they were reduced to 14 players with six minutes of regulation time remaining
Neil Ronan paid the price for reacting rashly to some slight provocation from Newcestown's Michael McSweeney, but it didn't cost Ballyhea dearly, with the sterling resistance from their defence ensuring that they weren't going to concede a goal which might have denied them a famous victory at the death.
Ballyhea: J Morrissey 1-2, P O'Callaghan 0-5, E O'Leary 0-3, N Ronan 0-3, 0-2 frees, G Morrissey 0-2, E Morrissey and E Rea 0-1 each
Newcestown: D Twomey 0-6, 0-5 frees, E Kelly 0-3 frees, C Keane and T Twomey 0-2 each each, F Keane, C O'Neill and T Horgan 0-1 each
Ballyhea: M Browne, O O'Sullivan, M Morrissey, A O'Connor, J Hennessy, B Coleman, T Shanahan, M O'Sullivan, D Copps, K Morrissey, N Ronan, P O'Callaghan, J Morrissey, G Morrissey, E O'Leary Subs: E Morrissey for K Morrissey, 52, E Rea for Copps, 59
Newcestown: K Kelly, L O'Donovan, J Crowley, G O'Driscoll, D Heffernan, J Desmond, C O'Neill, T Twomey, M McSweeney, F Keane, E Kelly, L Meade, S Ryan, C Keane, D Twomey Subs: G Murphy for O'Donovan, 23, T Horgan for Ryan, 33, J Meade for E Kelly, 36, C Twomey for Heffernan, 44, C Healy for F Keane, 55
Referee: M Maher (St Finbarr's)
THE Game in 60 seconds
Pa O'Callaghan was in immaculate form at wing forward for Ballyhea, delivering five exquisite points from play, and his work-rate left nothing to be desired either
It might have come at a very early stage, but John Morrissey's goal gave Ballyhea the impetus to lay the foundations for victory in the first half.
Given that they were on top for long stretches of the contest, it was somewhat remarkable that Ballyhea, notwithstanding Newcestown's renowned battling qualities, didn't finish with more than four points to spare.
Mark Maher got the vast majority of his calls spot-on, including the decision to flash red to Neil Ronan near the end.