Mahony plays key role as Ballygunner show extra drive to edge past Sarsfields
Munster Club SHC: Ballygunner 1-21 Thurles Sars' 1-19 (after extra-time)
Ballygunner have left Munster championship games behind them in the past, but not on this bright October Sunday afternoon.
The four-in-a-row Waterford winners surrendered a two-point lead to favourites Thurles Sarsfields at the end of normal time, with Lar Corbett striking the equaliser, and faced into the additional 20 minutes without their go-to forward Brian O'Sullivan, who had sustained a shoulder injury.
Back in the dressing-room, they weren't prepared to give up on the prospect of a second provincial title.
"We just said that it wasn't going to happen," revealed out-of-breath boss Fergal Hartley. "We made mistakes and we lost our concentration. In fairness, the boys responded again in the last ten minutes. It was just backs to the wall stuff. I'm so proud of them."
Pauric Mahony and David O'Sullivan steered Ballygunner to a 1-18 to 1-16 advantage by half-time of extra time.
Padraic Maher's second point of the second period, from 65 metres, levelled matters for a seventh time, but JJ Hutchinson, one of three Gunner subs to get on the scoresheet, hit the lead point on 77 minutes. Mahony then skipped through the Sars defence for a clinching point in keeping with a titanic tussle. He finished with 1-11.
After losing by the slenderest margin to the same opposition 12 months ago, the post-match jubilation reflected the magnitude of this result.
"It does mean a lot to us, as you can see. We were gutted coming out of Thurles last year, we felt that we left the game behind us, albeit to an absolutely brilliant Thurles Sarsfields team. When you win a game like that, you have to be so, so proud of the lads. I'm absolutely wiped," Hartley said.
Hartley always retained belief in their endurance levels. "We've a savage fitness trainer in Shay Fitzpatrick and we had six of the lads on the Waterford panel who got the best of training there. We knew we would be fit enough."
Maher stood big for Thurles, especially in extra-time, but an uncharacteristic spillage on 20 minutes allowed Mahony's free to sneak into the goal. It changed the complexion of the game after two points each from Stephen Lillis, Corbett and Aidan McCormack put the visitors 0-6 to 0-4 in front inside the first quarter.
Sars would fail to score for 14 minutes and the Gunners capitalised with 1-3.
Corbett, who drifted out from corner-forward, swung a third point over his shoulder to end that barren spell. Despite two earlier wides, Mahony was in the zone and a free from his own 65 kept just a goal between them at the break (1-8 to 0-8).
Two points was the gap near the end of the third quarter, when Hartley's side suffered a double whammy. O'Sullivan dislocated his collarbone in a heavy fall and then Sars corner-forward Conor Stakelum swept to the net after Stephen O'Keeffe thwarted Billy McCarthy.
Mahony equalised before O'Sullivan's replacement David Walsh recovered a narrow lead.
Three Ballygunner misses followed before Denis Maher punished a sloppy clearance to make it 1-13 apiece. A tremendous Shane O'Sullivan point from midfield seemed to tilt the game in Ballygunner's favour, before Peter Hogan then kicked over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Stephen Cahill and Corbett caught the Waterford men in injury-time, but a superior subs bench and the added motivation from last year eventually got it done for the Gunners.
Can they rise it again for Sixmilebridge next Sunday?
"That's the thing, getting the boys to that pitch every week," Hartley said. "It's difficult, but they're doing that in the league section of the county championship, playing at that pitch and that intensity. "It's not really about physical fitness, it's more about mental strength. These guys have that in buckets."
Scorers - Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 1-11 (1-6fs), P Hogan, D O'Sullivan 0-2 each, S O'Sullivan, C Power, Brian O'Sullivan, D Walsh, Barry O'Sullivan, JJ Hutchinson 0-1 each. Thurles Sarsfields: L Corbett 0-4, C Stakelum 1-0, A McCormack (1f), P Bourke (2fs), D Maher 0-3 each, P Maher, S Lillis 0-2 each, S Cahill, B McCarthy 0-1 each.
Ballygunner - S O'Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, S O'Sullivan; D O'Sullivan, Pauric Mahony, B O'Keeffe; C Power, P Hogan, Brian O'Sullivan. Subs: D Walsh for Brian O'Sullivan (42), Barry O'Sullivan for Power (58), JJ Hutchinson for B O'Keeffe (59), T O'Sullivan for Hogan (69), C Sheehan for S Walsh (77), B O'Keeffe for Barnes (80).
Thurles Sarsfields - P McCormack; R Maher, S Maher, M Cahill; C Moloney, P Maher, S Lillis; J Maher, S Cahill; B McCarthy, A McCormack, D Maher; C Stakelum, P Bourke, L Corbett. Subs: T Doyle for Bourke (49), M O'Brien for Stakelum (56), C Stakelum for D Maher (69), K O'Gorman for S Maher (70), P Bourke for Corbett (73).
Ref - C Lyons (Cork).