Measured champions inflict another unexpected defeat on Ballyduff
ONE year ago St Brendan's surprised many when they bridged a gap of almost 25 years to claim the Championship crown. Ballyduff in their quest for a four in a row dissapointed greatly due in part to the absence of a few key players.
Having never before won titles back to back there was a reluctance to install the defending champions as favourites for this particular campaign. There was also a general feeling that with Ballyduff back at full strength they would be the team to beat in this year's competition. Nothing new about that, given Ballyduff's record in the competition which currently has them sitting on top of the Roll of Honour.
Sunday's contest in the Austin Stack Park was therefore keenly anticipated by supporters and neutrals alike. It wouldn't obviously decide the winners of this year's Championship but it would provide a pretty solid indicator of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the respective combinations.
Goals win games is a well worn sporting cliche and, while the two scored by St Brendan's were extremely significant factors in their success it wasn't just these scores which were the difference between the teams at the end of the day. In an encounter where both sides adopted at times a pretty cautious approach St Brendan's played with more method and combination.
Even when Ballyduff had opened up a three-point gap in the latter stages of the first half, St Brendans with John Egan employed in a withdrawn role maintained a strategy of picking out players out wide and in space.
Ballyduff, by contrast, delivered a lot of hopeful deliveries from distance many of which were off target, they finished with a tally of twelve wides and those which did fall short were dealt with comfortably and capably by a defensive unit which always had numbers in key sectors especially in front of goal.
Having said all that Ballyduff if they had converted half of their chances and hadn't been denied on three occasions by some superb goalkeeping from Darren Delaney could well claim that they might, maybe even should have won this particular game. But, the fact that they didn't score from play for twenty five minutes of the second half sums up a performance which was inconsistent and indifferent.
St Brendan's had some outstanding individuals in their ranks none more so than Kevin Hannifin and John Egan at opposite ends of the pitch, and when they needed somebody to stand up and be counted and take the game by the scruff of the neck, these players along with a few others were never found wanting.
Ballyduff on this occasion didn't have players of the same qualities even if, true to their tradition they pursued the issue right up until the final whistle, and when they reduced the deficit to just two points late in the game there was a chance momentarily that they might well fashion a win against the odds.
But, hardly surprisingly it was John Egan who stepped up to steer his side home. Ballyduff looked the livelier side at the outset of proceedings but with scores at a premium and both sides guilty of hitting deliveries into unoccupied space in front of goal thereby allowing the greater number of defenders to clear their lines without being under any undue pressure it wasn't surprising that the scoreline read three points apiece after twenty five minutes.
Three minutes later a crucial and quite brilliant save by Darren Delaney kept St Brendan's afloat, but, three unanswered pointed frees from Bobby O'Sullivan meant that Ballyduff led by three coming up to the end of the first half. However in added time John Egan dispossessed a defender in front of goal and duly delivered a powerful finish to the roof of the Ballyduff net to leave the teams deadlocked - 1-3 to 0-6 - at the half time break. A big boost at quite an opportune time for Ardfert who lost the services of Cian Hussey for the second half.
A brace from John Egan edged his side in front at the start of the second half and with the issue still delicately poised a long delivery was capitalised upon by Nicky O'Sullivan who steered the ball neatly into the corner of the net in the forty fifth minute.
A real game breaking score in every sense of the word and with the Ardfert defence magnificent, both individually and as a unit and David Griffin's wholehearted endeavours in the middle third being quite notable St Brendan's exerted a firm grip and largely dictated the trend of proceedings.
Ballyduff with a final scoring surge asked questions about St Brendan's belief and character but Darren Delaney, David Griffin and most especially John Egan who shot some magnificent scores late in the game all came up trumps when the need was greatest.
A notable victory therefore for St Brendans who won't be knocked that easily from their throne. Ballyduff have a huge assignment against Causeway in their quest to remain in the race and if they succeed in that particular contest it puts them right back as leading contenders to displace St Brendan's as Champions. But, on the basis of this particular encounter that's going to be quite a difficult task indeed.
St Brendan's: Darren Delaney, Kevin Hannafin, Conor Flaherty, Fionan Horgan, Kevin Orpen, Darren Dineen, Eamonn Corridan, Rory Horgan, Stephen Leen, Cian Hussey (0-1), David Griffin (0-2), Padraig Kearney, Donie Mackessy, Tim Hannafin, John Egan (1-6, 0-2f). Subs: Owen McCarthy for P Kearney, Nicky O'Sullivan (1-0) for C Hussey, Kieran Fitzgerald (0-1) for T Hannafin, John Galvin for D Mackessy
Ballyduff: PJ Gorman, John Paul Leahy, Liam Boyle, Jason Bowler, Barry O'Grady, Paudie Costello, Kevin Bowler, Bobby O'Sullivan (0-5, 4f, 1 '65'), Kevin O'Connor, Pat Joe Connolly,(0-1) Mikey Boyle (0-1), Padraig Boyle (0-1), Daniel O'Carroll (0-1), Aidan Boyle, Jack Goulding (0-1). Subs: Ally O'Connor for PJ Connolly, Anthony O'Carroll for K O'Connor.
Referee: John Healy (Clare)
One could consider any one of the six Ardfert defenders, especially Kevin Hannafin. However with scores difficult to come by John Egan's input was enormous, given that most of his returns came at crucial times, especially his goal on the stroke of half time.
The goals coming when they did with scores very much at a premium were obviously significant factors in St Brendan's success. However Darren Delaney's save from Jack Goulding late on in the game ultimately proved to be crucial to the eventual outcome.