Thursday, 23rd November 2017
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Gunners take aim at Munster

Ballygunner, favourites from the outset, duly completed their four in a row of JJ Kavanagh sponsored Waterford Senior Hurling Championships on Sunday last at Walsh Park. Before a sizable crowd the Gunners once again proved their pedigree as they overcame a resilient De La Salle on a 2-18 to 0-16 scoreline. The Gunners have certainly been the most impressive outfit throughout the current domestic campaign and going into the Munster Championship on Sunday next they will face another team, Tipperary four in a row kingpins, Thurles Sarsfields who themselves will also be high in confidence.

COUNTY FINAL

On Sunday last the weather was excellent for hurling. A light breeze blowing from the "country end" favoured Ballygunner in the opening half. De La Salle were forced to make one change before the start as full back Ian Flynn, who retired injured in the semi-final, was replaced by David Greene. The opening minute following the throw in from referee Tommy O'Sullivan saw Jake Dillon just off target after a short free from Kevin Moran. Ballygunner however were first on the scoreboard as David O'Sullivan collected and pointed in the 3rd minute. A high challenge brought a free and Pauric Mahony added a second point in the 5th minute. De La Salle through the efforts of semi-final hero Jack Fagan (his winning point against Passage deep in additional time), had their opening score. Brian O'Sullivan collected Stephen O'Keeffe's puck out and landed a point but Paidi Nevin answered in kind for De La Salle within thirty seconds.

In the 9th minute Peter Hogan was just off target for Ballygunner but they finally breached the De La Salle defence courtesy of a superb run from Brian O'Sullivan who parted to Conor Power. The corner forward never looked for a second chance as he hammered the ball to the net. The Knockboy outfit through David O'Sullivan had a brace of unanswered points to lead 1-5 to 0-2 after eleven minutes. De La Salle had a point as player of the year nominee Kevin Moran played a short free to Jack Fagan and the attacker pointed. A foul on Peter Hogan brought a free and Pauric Mahony converted. However Shane Ryan replied in kind following a foul on John Mullane1-6 to 0-4.

The Gunners hit a number of wides during this period as both Shane Ryan (free) and John Mullane (superb from out wide) brought the lead back to three points 1-6 to 0-6. Another point apiece from Shane O'Sullivan and Shane Ryan saw the lead still at three points. Conor Power got free of the De La Salle defence but a superb save from Shaun O'Brien kept the Gunners at bay. Two points in as many minutes from Peter Hogan and Billy O'Keeffe, put through by Ian Kenny, edged their team five ahead 1-9 to 0-7. However De La Salle came right back at the reigning champions and a point apiece from Jack Fagan and Shane Ryan saw just a goal between the sides. However in additional time Pauric Mahony added a magnificent point to see the Knockboy outfit ahead 1-10 to 0-9 at the break.

SECOND HALF

Although four points behind,  De La Salle bainisteoir Owen Dunphy and his fellow management team must have been reasonably happy with the scoreline. Four points down but having the advantage of the breeze in the second half, there was precious little in it. It was Ballygunner who began the second half on the front foot. Two fouls in succession on David O'Sullivan brought two points from the stick of ace free taker Pauric Mahony. Shane Ryan was just off with a long eighty metre free as Peter Hogan and Stephen Dalton were yellow carded. In the 36th minute Wayne Hutchinson created the space for Shane Walsh to fire over and there was a lead of seven points for Ballygunner 1-13 to 0-9.

Shane Ryan added a point for De La Salle in the 38th minute but a superb effort from Brian O'Sullivan sailed over for Ballygunner three minutes later. O'Sullivan had collected from an indirect free which Pauric Mahony played to him following an injury to De La Salle forward Davis Greene. Fortunately the Stephen Street man was able to continue.

De La Salle were back to within six points in the 42nd minute as Shane Ryan converted a free but three minutes later their defence was again breached. Brian O'Sullivan collected and raced through on goal. A super save from keeper Shaun O'Brien saw the ball reach Conor Power who crashed a ground shot to the net. Pauric Mahony added a point within a minute and the lead was out to ten 2-15 to 0-11. De La Salle tried manfully to get back into the game. Kevin Moran with a brilliant midfield effort had a point and Shane Ryan added another from a free a minute later. Michael Doherty was booked for a foul on Brian O'Sullivan and Mahony again converted. Over the following five minutes both selection teams brough in the cavalry with De La Salle introducing Eddie Meaney, Thomas Douglas and Cormac McCann while  Michael Mahony, Barry O'Sullivan and JJ Hutchinson saw action for Ballygunner. In between both Shane Ryan and Pauric Mahony had a point apiece to see the reigning champions ahead 2-27 to 0-14 with four minutes left on the clock.

Indeed a double save from De La Salle goalie Shaun O'Brien from both Wayne Hutchinson and Billy O'Keeffe during this period ensured the Gunners were not going to get goal number three. As time wound down an effort from Adam Farrell was blocked over by Gunners keeper Stephen O'Keeffe 2-17 to 0-15. In the first minute of additional time Pauric Mahony had a terrific point for Ballygunner as Tim O'Sullivan came into the action. The final score came the way of De La Salle as Thomas Douglas fired over from a free right at the death. The man of the match was awarded to Ballygunner defender Philip Mahony who was superb on the day.

UP NEXT

And so, Ballygunner continue on their unbeaten run, capturing the Waterford News and Star Cup for a fourth consecutive year. They will now represent the county in the Provincial quarter final next weekend at Walsh Park against Tipperary champions, the famed Thurles Sarsfields. This is surely a game that will bring a huge crowd to the Keane's Road venue. With players of the calibre of intercounty stars Padraig and Ronan Maher, Mickey Cahill and Stephen Lillis in defence, the Gunners attack will have to take any chances that pass their way. Sars goalkeeper Patrick McCormack is a solid performer and kept another "clean sheet" in their final win over Borrisileigh (1-24 to 0-11).

Up front the team like Ballygunner is laden with scorers. Aidan McCormack was superb last time out and along with Denis Maher, Pa Bourke, Conor Stakelum and former player of the year Lar Corbett the "Blues" will make a bold effort to reach the Provincial semi-final. That said, the Ballygunner wagon just keeps churning out the results and with home advantage I expect they may well keep that sequence going. Incidentally the only time Thurles won a Munster club championship they defeated De La Salle 1-21 to 1-15 in the final of 2012 having been beaten by the Stephen Street out in 2010 by the narrowest margin 0-9 to 0-8.

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