Deasy sends Ballyea into Croker decider
Ballyea 1-19 St Thomas' 2-14
If ever a scoreboard deceived you it was this two-point win that clinched a spot at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day for Ballyea.
For 50 minutes the Clare champions made St Thomas' 2013 All-Ireland winners look a ramshackle bunch, but once the Galway side got their act together they somehow closed a 12-point deficit into just a point late on.
But with his side on the cusp of a horror collapse, Tony Kelly - like he had done all day - gathered a crucial break around the middle and pointed from the right wing to deliver the knock-out blow that should have come much earlier.
Three months on from their maiden county title, Ballyea have improved hugely, and don't solely rely on star man Kelly. Niall Deasy was their crucial second-half goalscorer and also hit a perfect nine frees, but across the park the Ballyea men dominated their opposition, the majority of whom will be annoyed with their performances.
Manager Robbie Hogan dared to dream of what this side could achieve when they set out on their journey this time last year, but now the mission is clear: a first All-Ireland title for the club against ether Cuala or Slaughtneil.
"Our target now is to win the next game. The fact that it's an All-Ireland, we can't let that over rule the day either," said Hogan.
"It's 'win the next game', that's been our motto every game. Every game was a county final in our heads. It's no different here, it's just another game, but it's one we really want to win."
With Deasy untouchable and Tony Kelly untouched, Ballyea raced into a 0-10 to 0-3 half-time lead. St Thomas' will have to question how they lined up against the 2013 Hurler of the Year, who appeared to have an exclusion zone around him for most of the first half, so loose was the marking job on him.
Conor Cooney had a tough day from placed balls, and after three misses he was replaced on frees by Darragh Burke, who was central to Thomas' comeback. Ironically it was a goaled Conor Cooney 21-yard free that stared the resurgence, and when they fired nine of the next ten points and sub Anthony Kelly goaled in added-time, the comfortable cushion was down to a one-point lead.
But Kelly's class came to the fore again to ease the nerves of Hogan and Ballyea.
"It was crazy stuff," said Hogan. "The two goals kind of rocked us and we just rode our luck there in the end. But thankfully Tony got over for a point. Luckily enough the clock ran out of time."
Scorers - Ballyea: N Deasy 1-11 (9f); T Kelly 0-3; G O'Connell, PJ Connolly 0-2 each; C Doohan 0-1. St Thomas': Darragh Burke 0-8 (5f, 2'65); C Cooney (f), A Kelly 1-0 each; K Burke 0-2; D Cooney, S Cooney, J Regan, E Burke 0-1 each.
Ballyea - K Sheehan; J Neylon, J Browne, B Carrigg; G O'Connell, P Flanagan, J Murphy; T Kelly, S Lineen; N Deasy, PJ Connolly, C Doohan; P Lillis, G Brennan, D Burke. Subs: M O'Leary for Burke (32).
St Thomas' - P Skehill; F Burke, C Burke, E Burke; D Cooney, S Cooney, J Regan; David Burke, B Burke; C Cooney, Darragh Burke, D Sherry; B Farrell, S Skehill, K Burke. Subs: A Kelly for Sherry (22), M Caulfield for Farrell (44).
Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny).
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