Injury hit Saints fail to cope
ST BRENDANS proved no match for a dominant Ballina side in what proved a one-sided Munster intermedaite club hurling semi-final at a chilly MacDonagh Park, Nenagh on Sunday afternoon last.
The Tipperary side expected a stiff test from the Kerry senior hurling champions but that test failed to materialise as Ballina effectively killed the game off early with a blistering ten-minute period at the end the opening half.
St Brendans had ended a 23-year wait to capture the Kerry county title the previous weekend and following their replay victory over a tough Lixnaw side the exertions of the past week coupled with a number of injuries to key players definitely took their toll, a fact alluded to by the Kerry side's manager, Pat O'Driscoll following the defeat.
While Ballina had a full panel to choose from, St Brendans were without their goalkeeper, Darren Delaney while a rib injury sustained by corner-forward, Cian Hussey just before the interval heaped further misery on the Kerry champions. Added to this was the fact that scorer-in-chief, John Egan carried a serious shoulder knock into the game.
Playing into the scoreboard end, Ballina started brightly with captain, David Hickey on target after just two minutes. John Egan (free) replied for Brendans before three points with reply from Donal Kent, Stephen Stritch and Michael Breen (free) fired Ballina into an early lead.
Although both sides employed an extra man in defence it was Ballina who coped far better, picking off point after point while the Kerry side were dependent on the freetaking exploits of corner-forward, John Egan to keep in touch. Ballina's defence were well on top though, a point well illustrated by the fact that Brendans only managed just one point from play in the opening half thanks to an 18th minute Tom Moloney effort.
While the Kerry side managed to keep pace with Brendan McKeogh's charges for the opening 20 minutes they really came under the cosh in the closing ten minutes of the half. A sublime sideline cut from the stick of Stephen O'Brien got the ball rolling before Michael Breen (free) and Stephen Stritch both raised white flags.
Stritch, who had linked up with older brother, Brian for his 21st minute point, added another two minutes later and again it was his brother who provided the necessary ammunition.
The big full-forward, who created a number of influential Ballina scores, also fashioned Ballina's opening goal of the game in the 24th minute after he gathered a long ball out of defence and found the inrushing TJ O'Connell with a sublime crossfield pass. O'Connell rattled the net with ease to put Ballina well and truly on the road to victory.
St Brendans were afforded the chance of an immediate riposte, but John Egan's effort from a placed ball tailed right and wide before Steven O'Brien tacked on another point for the Tipp champions.
Brendans continued to battle on though with Darren Dineen, who was easily his side's most potent player, handed the chance of a strike on goals from a 20 metre free in the 27th minute. His effort was well-saved though by Martin McKeogh in the Ballina goals.
Ballina surged back upfield wit Gerry O'Brien knocking over a fine effort from range before Steven O'Brien set up Michael Breen for a low shot on goals right on the stroke of half-time.
Goalkeeper, Tim Hannafin advanced to block the shot but just couldn't get his hurl down fast enough to keep the sliotar from ending up in the back of the St Brendans net for what was a 'soft' Ballina goal.
John Egan added a late free for the Kerry side deep in injury time but it was Ballina who went in to the dressing room with their tails up on the back of a 2-13 to 0-6 scoreline.
Credit to the injury hit Brendans side they battled hard in the second half with their defence tightening up considerably and the impressive Darren Dineen picking off a couple of nice points from play.
Their dependancy on the freetalking abilities of John Egan kept them barely within striking distance, but Ballina's teak tough defence, marshalled by full-back, Pat Cosgrave and centre- back, Thomas Collins, proved far too difficult for the Kerry side to break down.
Michael Breen's freetalking exploits also ensured Ballina kept well-clear of a possible St Brendans resurgence while points from Gerry O'Brien, Eoin Sheehy, Stephen Stritch kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Ballina men.
As the second half petered to a close, Ballina did thake their foot off the gas a bit but they still proved more than a match for their outclassed opponents with a second goal from Michael Breen right on the stoke of full-time rounding off a comprehensive and deserved victory for the Tipp champions and disappointment for their Kerry rivals.
Ballina: Martin McKeogh, Rody Kennedy, Pat Cosgrove, Brian McKeogh, Kevin Cosgrove , Thomas Collins, Donal Kent (0-1), Gerry O'Brien (0-2), Steven O'Brien (0-2), Stephen Stritch (0-4), Michael Breen (2-7, 6f), Sean McKeogh, TJ O'Connell (1-0), Brian Stritch, David Hickey (0-1) Subs: Eoin Sheehy (0-2) for B. Stritch (h/t), Conor Maguire for O'Connell (44), Fergal Collins for T. Collins, Paul Ryan for S. O'Brien.
St Brendans: Tim Hannafin, Fionan Horgan, Conor Flaherty, Kevin Orpen, Kevin Hannafin , Eamonn Corridan, Rory Horgan, Darren Dineen (0-3, 1f), Denis Moriarty, Darren Wallace, Owen McCarthy, David Griffin (0-1), Cian Hussey, Tom Moloney (0-1), John Egan (0-9f) Subs: Kieran Fitzgerald (0-1) for Wallace (28), Alan Dineen for Hussey (inj h/t), John Galvin for (Moriarty (h/t), Nicky O'Sullivan for McCarthy (54), John Paul Leen for Moloney (54)
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford)