It takes a special side to deliver their best when the occasion demands it and Ballygunner played champagne hurling from start to finish as Dessie Hutchinson’s star soared further into orbit to bag a third Munster title in stunning fashion.
The Waterford giants bottled the disappointment from their shock provincial final reversal in 2019 to make another statement of their All-Ireland intent with Hutchinson bagging 1-5 from play in another virtuoso display at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
The former Brighton & Hove Albion soccer star was too hot to handle with his movement piercing holes in a Kilmallock defence that was leaking water from early on and the Limerick champions just couldn’t keep pace.
Hutchinson’s ninth-minute goal – he could have quickly had a second were it not for a stunning Barry Hennessy save – helped them into a nine-point lead at half-time and it was over soon after as Kevin Mahony and Billy O’Keeffe also raised green flags.
Darragh O’Sullivan has seen some heartbreaking days as a player and manager with the Waterford city side, but he was left “buzzing” after a complete performance helped this squad add to their 2018 Munster triumph.
“To perform to the level we did, it’s hugely pleasing. That’s what we’re looking for, for the lads to go out and express themselves, and that’s what they did,” a beaming O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan knows “that’s no guarantee for the next day” when they meet Ulster champions Slaughtneil later this month, however, with ace marksman Pauric Mahony in a similar frame of mind after going some way to cement their legacy.
“If we probably had only won the one (Munster) in our careers, we maybe would have looked back and said we didn’t do ourselves justice.
"But this team, we’re not looking behind us, we’re looking forward all the time,” Mahony said.
The former Waterford captain insists that they “don’t want to stop here now” with even bigger fish to fry in a fortnight’s time at Parnell Park, but the video debrief of this display will make for enjoyable viewing.
The ‘Gunners hunted in packs and forced turnovers with a savage work-rate that never wavered while their clinical use of possession meant a ball was rarely wasted with a ruthless efficiency in front of the posts clocking up a whopping tally.
Kilmallock simply couldn’t live with them as a dream year came to a halt with manager Tony Considine insisting that a sobering final defeat was not a fair reflection on them.
“It was just one of those days where it went wrong, and it’s very hard to put your finger on it, really.
"You can say new ground, new stadium, make excuses – we have no excuses whatsoever,” a shellshocked Considine said.
“I know in my heart and soul, and the players know, that they’re better than that, but for some unknown reason they didn’t perform. I can’t put my finger on it. I wish I could.
"Ballygunner were at their best and we weren’t anywhere near our best.”
Limerick stars Graeme Mulcahy and Robbie Hanley fired over points inside two minutes, but they were seven down before they knew what had hit them with Hutchinson pouncing on a Mark O’Loughlin error to fire to the net as they raced into a 1-6 to 0-2 lead.
Points from Kevin O’Donnell and Micheál Houlihan – an exquisite snapshot from the sideline – either side of the first water break gave them some hope, but that quickly faded when the latter was forced off through injury in the 25th minute.
It was all Ballygunner with Billy O’Keeffe also in top form as their lead stretched to nine by half-time, 1-11 to 0-5, and they surged further clear upon the resumption with a 2-4 blitz putting the game firmly to bed.
Hutchinson sent over two points in quick succession before Kevin Mahony reacted fasted to a free from his brother Pauric and whipped the ball to the net while O’Keeffe was also on hand to hit the onion bag in the 40th minute after Hennessy had denied rampaging corner-back Tadhg Foley from point-blank range.
At 3-14 to 0-6, an almighty hiding looked on the cards but Kilmallock deserve credit for not throwing in the towel with substitutes Phelim O’Reilly, Killian Hayes and Conor Hanley, who landed an injury-time goal from a free, putting some respectability on the scoreline.
It was Ballygunner’s day and all eyes now to turn to their All-Ireland bid.
SCORERS – Ballygunner: D Hutchinson 1-5, Pauric Mahony 0-7 (4f, 1 ‘65), B O’Keeffe 1-3, K Mahony 1-0, P Hogan, P Leavey 0-2 each, M Mahony 0-1. Kilmallock: C Hanley 1-1 (1-0f), K O’Donnell 0-3 (2f), R Hanley 0-2, G Mulcahy, M Houlihan, O O’Reilly, P O’Reilly, C O’Connor, K Hayes 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER – S O’Keeffe; T Foley, B Coughlan, I Kenny; R Power, Philip Mahony, S O’Sullivan; C Sheahan, P Leavey; M Mahony, Pauric Mahony, P Hogan; D Hutchinson, K Mahony, B O’Keeffe. Subs: Conor Power for Hogan (54), E Hayden for O’Sullivan (56), H Ruddle for B O’Keeffe (57), B O’Sullivan for Pauric Mahony and J Foley for Hutchinson (both 59).
KILMALLOCK – B Hennessy; L English, M O’Loughlin, D Joy; Philip O’Loughlin, C O’Connor, P O’Brien; R Hanley, A Costello; M Houlihan, O O’Reilly, D Woulfe; K O’Donnell, G O’Mahony, G Mulcahy. Subs: Paddy O’Loughlin for Houlihan inj (25), C Hanley for Philip O’Loughlin (h-t), P O’Reilly for Woulfe, R Egan for O’Mahony (both 44), K Hayes for Costello (51).
REF – C Lyons (Cork).