Monday 10 December 2018

Mahony on fire as top Gunners seal Déise five-in-a-row

Ballygunner 2-19 Abbeyside 0-13

Wayne Hutchinson of Ballygunner in action against Abbeyside’s John Hurney during yesterday’s Waterford SHC final. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Wayne Hutchinson of Ballygunner in action against Abbeyside’s John Hurney during yesterday’s Waterford SHC final. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Delicate crockery seldom survives this kind of day, so the joy of five in a row comes spilling out of Fergal Hartley as he talks about Ballygunner men standing up to be counted in Dungarvan.

Wayne Hutchinson? Passed fit to play as late as Friday, imperious. Pauric Mahony? Passed fit only in the morning warm-up, Man of the Match. As Hartley speaks, Shane O'Sullivan stands under the quaint stand, a microphone in hand. Just won his eighth county medal.

New Waterford manager Paraic Fanning at Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
New Waterford manager Paraic Fanning at Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Few feelings are more simple or profound than digging deep for your people. Hartley knows it.

Wheeze

"We didn't win five in a row because of our hurlers," says the Ballygunner manager, his voice reduced to a wheeze. "We won five in a row because of people like Shane O'Sullivan. Phenomenal people."

Something had to give yesterday; the meanest defence in Waterford locking horns with the most prolific attack.

It drew 4,275 pilgrims to Fraher Field and Abbeyside gave it everything in search of a first senior title. But their nerves seemed stretched from the off, Hartley drawing a fourth official's attention to Darragh McGrath's unscrupulous policing of Tim O'Sullivan with the ball at the far end of the field.

The Ballygunner team celebrate winning five-in-a-row. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
The Ballygunner team celebrate winning five-in-a-row. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Within six minutes of the throw-in, McGrath had been penalised twice for fouls on O'Sullivan and, just 12 minutes in, John Elsted was on a booking for the attention being paid to Conor Power. That was the tenor of it. Abbeyside's full-back line taut with nerves and, already, walking a tightrope.

Their solitary star-turn in attack, Mark Ferncombe, had a point on the board inside 30 seconds and, when Patrick Hurney quickly added a second, the hum in the old ground spoke of a rising anxiety in the champions. But then those two McGrath fouls drew Pauric Mahony frees and, truth to tell, thereafter everything pretty much ran to a humdrum script.

Mahony, nursing a back issue for the past fortnight, was exceptional, delivering three points from play between the 25th and 27th minutes at a time Abbeyside were mid-stream in running up the ugly statistic of seven sides in succession. Ferncombe apart, they hadn't a sniper with anything close to Mahony's eye. A blessing for Ballygunner that they could call on him.

As Hartley read it: "Right up to do doing the warm-up we didn't know if Pauric was going to play. To be honest if this game wasn't on today, he probably wouldn't train for another two or three weeks. A lesser man wouldn't have played."

Brian Looby of Abbeyside in action against Conor Sheahan of Ballygunner. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Brian Looby of Abbeyside in action against Conor Sheahan of Ballygunner. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

So Ballygunner led 0-9 to 0-6 at the break and, with the wind to come, it already looked a day with nothing to be completed but the smallprint.

That's how it proved too, Brian O'Sullivan rolling home Ballygunner's first goal in the 40th minute to give them an eight-point lead that, frankly, was never going to be threatened. Soon after, Patrick Hurney (already on a booking) was shown a straight red after an incident in the Ballygunner 'square' and, down a man, Abbeyside's challenge was now effectively parked up on cinder blocks.

With Philip Mahony operating as Ballygunner's free man, the challenger's long, high deliveries carried an air of futility and, when Power waltzed inside McGrath to net impressively in the 51st minute, the threat of the scoreboard turning ugly was palpable.

But Abbeyside, to be fair, resisted any impulse to lay down arms. Substitute Michael O'Halloran came off the bench to score two points and also drew a wonderful, full-length save from Stephen O'Keeffe.

Tim O'Sullivan of Ballygunner in action against John Elsted of Abbeyside. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Tim O'Sullivan of Ballygunner in action against John Elsted of Abbeyside. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It meant they, at least, died with their boots on, something of a gentle consolation to manager Peter Queally. "They were never going to give up or roll over, it's not in their nature," said Queally, a former county colleague of Hartley's.

Interested

With new Waterford manager Pauric Fanning an interested spectator, the game petered out undramatically, not that Hartley saw it that way.

Recalling how, five years ago, Ballygunner were caught at the death by a stunning, late Passage county final rally, Hartley admitted his nerves never quite settled until the last blow of Thomas Walsh's whistle.

His father was a Passage man and he now lives in the parish himself. But that day cut him deeper than any other. "We wouldn't have won the five in a row without being beaten by Passage that day for sure," he told us categorically. "It was the toughest defeat we've ever suffered in the club. Just the manner of it. We thought we were home and Passage came back.

"That drove us on. It's five years ago, but it still feels like yesterday. We'll never forget it."

SCORERS - Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 0-14 (7fs, 0-1 '65'); Brian O'Sullivan 1-2; C Power 1-0; M Mahony, Barry O'Sullivan and B O'Keeffe 0-1 each. Abbeyside: M Ferncombe 0-8 (3fs, 0-1 '65'); M O'Halloran 0-2; M Power, J Hurney and P Hurney 0-1 each.

BALLYGUNNER - S O'Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; Philip Mahony, W Hutchinson, B O'Keeffe; H Barnes, S O'Sullivan; Barry O'Sullivan, Pauric Mahony, T O'Sullivan; C Power, Brian O'Sullivan, M Mahony. Subs: JJ Hutchinson for B O'Keeffe (48), C Sheahan for M Mahony (59), B Power for W Hutchinson (61), M Mullally for Power (63), P Cooke for S O'Keeffe (64).

ABBEYSIDE - S Enright; B Looby, S O'Hare, J Elsted; C Prunty, D Collins, D McGrath; J Beresford, M Power; N Montgomery, J Hurney, S Whelan-Barrett; P Hurney, M Ferncombe, T Murray. Subs: T Looby for O'Hare (h-t), R Foley for Murray (h-t), M O'Halloran for Whelan-Barrett (42), M Twomey for Elsted (56), E Kiely for Montgomery (58).

Ref - T Walsh (Modeligo)

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