County SHC gets underway in Tralee with mediocre contest illuminated by Nolan’s man of the match performance
COUNTY SHC GROUP 3 ROUND 1
Crotta O’Neills 2-16
Shane Nolan may or may not have played his last inter-county game in the green and gold of Kerry (only time will tell in that situation), but the Crotta O’Neill’s captain was in outstanding form for his club as the County SHC got underway at Austin Stack Park this evening.
In a Group 3 Round 1 encounter with Ballyheigue that never rose to any great heights, with weather conditions not making things easy for the protagonists, Nolan was always the game’s most influential figure, whether he found himself in the middle of the park or in the inside forward line.
Ten points in total from the long-serving Kingdom star (including four from play) was, unquestionably, a match-winning contribution, with a two-goal blast in the second quarter from full-forward Declan O’Donoghue, also playing a pivotal role in Crotta’s virtually untroubled passage to their first championship victory of the season.
While the likes of Ryan McElligott, Rory Mahony and Sean Weir were also consistently solid for the winners, Nolan’s leadership throughout, and O’Donoghue’s ruthlessness when he got his opportunities, were the proverbial rocks on which the Ballyheigue challenge perished on.
The first half was a tale of Crotta’s possession and territorial dominance, even with Ballyheigue having the benefit of the strong wind in their favour. Try as they might, the underdogs simply struggled to win enough of the dirty ball in their forward division, and they constantly lived off scraps as a result.
Three pointed frees from Nolan gave the Kilflynn men the early initiative before Nathan Guerin (free) got Ballyheigue off the mark in the 12th minute, but with the latter beginning to get up and running, and the lively James Sheehan to the fore, Crotta held a 0-5 to 0-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
However, with Michael Leane keeping a tight rein on Jordan Conway, fellow inter-county star Colin Walsh soon burst into proceedings for Ballyheigue, making a wonderful catch from a puck-out, driving on, and setting up wing-forward Philip Lucid for a superbly-struck goal in the 16th minute to really ignite their challenge.
When Walsh was almost immediately fouled for another Guerin free, Ballyheigue were in the ascendancy for the first time in the game, 1-3 to 0-5, but that was as good as things would get for them. Crotta full-forward O’Donoghue was about to make sure of that.
The talismanic Nolan (with two points on the bounce) regained the lead for Crotta before their number 14 would make his presence felt in a big way, slotting to the net with great composure after being assisted by Cillian Trant in the 23rd minute, 1-7 to 1-3.
The hard-working Felim O’Sullivan and Nolan then exchanged fine points from play, and with Guerin firing over another free, Ballyheigue would have been hopeful of going in at the break within a couple of points of their opponents.
However, two minutes into injury-time, after being plied by Sheehan, O’Donoghue, after eventually shrugging off the challenge of corner-back Seamie Foran, once again went straight for the jugular, and his rocket to the top corner of the net was a sickening blow to Ballyheigue, and an inspirational boost to his own side, just before the interval to make it 2-8 to 1-5.
Now, with a six-point cushion and with the elements in their favour on the resumption, Crotta might have been expected to pull away comprehensively but, in a second half that certainly never really caught fire to any significant degree, Ballyheigue deserve credit for plugging away to the bitter end.
Midfielder Walsh and corner-forward O’Sullivan, in particular, kept trying their best to instigate a revival from the seasiders, but with a huge over-dependency on the free-taking of Guerin for the majority of their scores (he notched 0-9 in total from placed balls), that was never going to be enough to rattle Crotta.
Conway (who wasn’t at his sharpest on the night) did briefly thunder into things with a couple of points from play for Crotta in the third quarter, at the end of which the winners were still in a comfortable position, 2-12 to 1-8, with the game petering out to some degree from there to the finish.
Ballyheigue did manage to reduce the deficit to five points but, disappointingly from their perspective, they failed to score in the last 15 minutes (including injury-time), and it was Crotta who sauntered past the winning post, the always prominent Weir, man-of-the-match Nolan and goal hero O’Donoghue, fittingly, shooting their remaining four points.
CROTTA O’NEILLS: Adam Sullivan; Ryan McElligott, Bill Keane, Sean McGrath; Rory Mahony, Sean Weir 0-1, Tadhg McKenna; Tomas O’Connor, Shane Nolan 0-10 (6f); Cillian Trant, Darragh O’Donoghue 0-1, Sean O’Donoghue; James Sheehan 0-1, Declan O’Donoghue 2-1, Jordan Conway 0-2. Subs: Denis Nolan for S O’Donoghue (44 mins), Darragh Kennelly for Sheehan (54 mins), Dominic Nolan for O’Connor (59 mins), Cormac White for Darragh O’Donoghue (62 mins).
BALLYHEIGUE: Cormac Slattery; Seamie Foran, Jason Casey, Dara Kearney; Graham Slattery, Mikey O’Halloran, Michael Leane; Colin Walsh, Ciaran Casey; Philip Lucid 1-0, Tomas Casey, Diarmuid Walsh; Tomas Gaynor, Nathan Guerin 0-9 (all frees), Felim O’Sullivan 0-1. Subs: Jordan Goggin for O’Halloran (30 mins), David O’Mahony for Gaynor (half-time), Eric Walsh for T Casey (half-time), Rory Duggan for C Casey (56 mins).
REFEREE: David Deady (Limerick)