GAA: club hurling championships - Ferns St. Aidan's 0-18, Fethard 2-9
Ian Byrne underlined his quality in the second-half in O'Kennedy Park, New Ross, on Saturday as Ferns St. Aidan's considerably enhanced their prospects of booking a place in the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship quarter-finals with a hard-fought three-point Group A win over Fethard.
The Gorey District side had left themselves in a relatively strong position when they only trailed by 1-7 to 0-8 at half-time after playing against the wind, and Byrne landed eight of their ten points after the break to drive them on to victory.
He was a regular outlet for his colleagues as he floated around the midfield area and, as well as converting six placed balls, his two successive strikes from play in the 40th and 42nd minutes powered his side into a 0-13 to 1-8 lead that was never relinquished.
With Gavin Bailey mopping up on a constant basis behind him, Ferns ultimately had too much in reserve for the Senior newcomers, although they were dealt a blow with eight minutes left when Daire Barden and John Tubritt combined to put Fethard substitute Bryan Power through for a goal (0-16 to 2-9).
Significantly, Ferns captain Paul Morris won James Lawlor's puck-out and landed a settling point, and Fethard had Garrett Foley sent-off on a second yellow card before Ian Byrne picked off the last score after a foul on Morris in the 60th minute.
The constant off-the-ball niggling, coupled with a degree of play-acting, led to some flashpoints, with the most serious in added time resulting in dismissals for recently-introduced Fethard substitute Darren Foley, along with Jonny Dwyer of Ferns.
This was the first-ever meeting of these clubs in the Senior hurling championship, and the opening half was notable for the seasiders' total reliance on centre-forward Mark Wallace for scores.
He contributed their entire tally of 1-7 in that spell, with all of the points from frees as Ferns found Mikie Dwyer, in particular, a difficult customer to deal with.
The Wallace goal arrived in the 22nd minute and gave his side a 1-3 to 0-4 lead, collecting a Ciarán Dwyer cross before selling a neat dummy and firing low to James Lawlor's net.
The fact that Ferns managed four points from play against the wind - from Niall Murphy, Paul Morris, Christopher O'Connor and Tommy Dwyer - suggested they had a better spread of scorers, while Jonny Dwyer chipped in with a sweet line ball from the left wing in the sixth minute.
Ian Byrne made it a one-point game from a free on the re-start, but the puck-out was caught by Fethard wing-back Richard Waters whose determined solo ended in a fine score.
Remarkably, though, that was the south county side's only point from play in the entire game, and that told its own story.
Byrne converted a '65 before Eoin Murphy levelled despite having a hurl thrown at him from behind as he struck the ball in the 36th minute (0-11 to 1-8).
Byrne then added two beauties from play, with the last free that Wallace converted being followed by a trio at the other end from the on-form county panel member.
Although Bryan Power's goal gave the leaders a jolt, their response was strong as they made it two wins from three, with games against St. Martin's and Faythe Harriers to come.
Fethard, meanwhile, have yet to meet last year's runners-up and St. Anne's, and it looks like their next contest against the Rathangan men - on Saturday in Innovate Wexford Park - will be a real six-pointer in terms of both clubs easing any potential relegation worries.
Ferns St. Aidan's: James Lawlor; Declan Byrne, John Breen, Rory Scallan; James Tonks, Conor Scallan, Niall Murphy (0-1); Gavin Bailey, Eoin Murphy (0-1); Brendan Jordan, Ian Byrne (0-11, 8 frees, 1 '65), Paul Morris (capt., 0-2); Christopher O'Connor (0-1), Jonny Dwyer (0-1 line ball), Tommy Dwyer (0-1). Subs. - Patrick O'Hagan for D. Byrne, inj. (15), Ryan Nolan for R. Scallan (HT), Brian O'Neill for O'Connor, inj. (34).
Fethard: Seán Foley; Martin Power, Rúairí Tubrid, Daniel Mullan; Richard Waters (0-1), Daire Barden, Graham O'Grady (joint capt.); Garrett Foley (joint capt.), John Tubritt; Jimmy Sutton, Mark Wallace (1-8, 0-8 frees), Eddie Power; Mikie Dwyer, Joe Sutton, Ciarán Dwyer. Subs. - Bryan Power (1-0) for Jimmy Sutton (30+3), Darren Foley for Wallace (54).
Referee: David O'Leary (Rathnure).