Ballygunner 1-13 -
Abbeyside’s dream of a first ever senior hurling title was put on hold for yet another year in Walsh Park on Sunday last where the villagers failed to repeat their group stage win over semi final opponents Ballygunner despite getting off to an ideal start that saw them into a 0 – 3 to nil lead with just eight minutes played. Indeed had they taken all of their early scoring opportunities that lead might have been doubled but once Ballygunner got a foothold in the game following Pauric Mahony’s opening point in the 9th minute the prospect of an upset began to look less likely. Indeed at no time did this game generate the excitement of that which preceded it with the large crowd strangely subdued, even while Abbeyside were in the ascendency early in the game. After the Gunners snatched the lead with a J. J. Hutchinson goal in the 27th minute they were never going to be headed and in an unexciting second half their experience came into play as they comfortably closed out the game at the end of what was a low key encounter compared to the first semi final.
Abbeyside came into this game on the back of a very impressive win over Fourmilewater that suggested this might be their year to make the long awaited breakthrough on the hurling front. For whatever reason, they never played with the same conviction that marked that victory when faced with a Ballygunner side that did not have to reach the level of performance that saw off De La Salle in the quarter finals.
It looked all so good for Abbeyside when Mark Ferncombe shot his side into the lead after just twenty seconds. Gary Hurney followed up with a well taken point from play two minutes later but with the Gunners being kept on the back foot and pinned in their own half Mark Ferncombe, Mark Fives and Patrick Hurney were all wide of the target before Mark Gorman pointed a free in the 8th minute for a three point lead. Stephen O’Keeffe’s puck out following that score picked out Pauric Mahony in midfield and he duly opened his side’s account with a fine strike from distance.
A point from a free by Mark Gorman was responded to by Shane O’Sullivan but Abbeyside retained the initiative with David Collins’ strike from midfield retaining their three point lead. There were signs now that the Gunners were gaining the upper hand as Pauric Mahony sent over three points between the 19th and 24th minutes to level the tie but a long range strike by corner back Shane O’Donovan put his side back into the lead in the 25th minute. Two minutes later Shane O’Sullivan sent Philip Mahony clear on a run through the centre of the Abbeyside defence and just as it seemed that he had a clear shot at goal he wrong footed the defenders by picking out the unmarked J. J. Hutchinson who gave Stephen Enright no chance in the Abbeyside goal.
That score proved the turning point of the game and though Mark Gorman’s third point from a free left a point between the sides Brian O’Sullivan completed the first half scoring in the 29th minute when he collected O’Keeffe’s well directed puck out and soloed through the Abbeyside defence for an easy point and a half time lead on a score of 1 – 6 to 0 – 7.
While Abbeyside enjoyed the greater share of possession in the first half, particularly in the opening quarter, their nine wide tally reflected their failure to take full advantage and with the Gunners now playing with the breeze in the second half the ball was very much in their court.
Abbeyside sent Michael O’Halloran into the attack in place of Gavin Breen on the restart and a foul on Shane O’Sullivan by John Hurney was punished with yellow card and a point from the free by Pauric Mahony and when a short puck out by Stephen Enright was fumbled by O’ Donovan Stephen Power took advantage to increase his side’s lead to four points with just three minutes of the second half played.
The wide count continued to rise on both sides before Shane O’Sullivan placed Brian O’Sullivan for his second point in the 37th minute and two minutes later Pauric Mahony opened up a six point lead. With Stephen O’Keeffe in top form between the Gunners’ posts goals were always going to be hard to come by for Abbeyside but with Ballygunner hitting a lean spell on the scoreboard between the 40th and 53rd minutes the villagers gradually took advantage to haul themselves back into the game with Mark Fives finding the target in the 43rd minute and Mark Gorman hitting his fourth point in the 50th minute. In between those scores Stephen Power and Brian O’Sullivan missed easy scoring chances and Abbeyside, somewhat surprisingly, called Mark Fives ashore to be replaced by Brian Looby.
Ballygunner were becoming as wasteful as their opponents as their wides tally mounted and with four points between the sides, and ten minutes remaining, Abbeyside were still in striking distance when a controversial decision saw them awarded a 20 metre free which was moved in front of the posts after protests thus giving Abbeyside keeper Stephen Enright the opportunity to come forward and emulate Stephen Nash with a shot at goal. His effort did not have the desired result and was deflected over the bar for a point that left just a goal between the teams.
Ballygunner now needed a score to reassert their superiority and it came in the 53rd minute from Harley Barnes. Abbeyside hit back immediately with a point from Mark Ferncombe but it was to be their last score of the game as J. J. Hutchinson put Pauric Mahony through for an insurance point in the 54th minute. A point from a free well inside his own half by the same player finished the scoring with Abbeyside never looking like making further inroads before the final whistle sounded to clear the way for a final showdown between the Gunners and their next door neighbours and bitter rivals, Passage.
Ballygunner will be only too aware that their overall performance here would not be good enough to win a final and they will be looking for a big improvement. They allowed Abbeyside time and space to take an early lead and against another side they could not afford to do that. Once again they relied on big performances from Stephen O’Keeffe in goal, Barry Coughlan at full back and Wayne Hutchinson in the centre of defence to keep the pressure eon the opposing forwards while Philip Mahony and Shane O’Sullivan held the upper hand in midfield after a slow start. Pauric Mahony maintained his impressive scoring tally in recent games in an attack that was not firing on all cylinders but did just about enough to come through here.
It was a disappointing performance by Abbeyside and one would have to question the ability of any team to strive for hurling and football titles in successive weeks. Following their football quarter final win over St. Saviours at the end of a hard game last Saturday week the Abbeyside players had to turn their attention to hurling and that is expecting a lot from the same group of players. They gave it their best but at times there were decisions taken that one would associate with footballers playing hurling. Stephen Enright could not be faulted in goal while Shane O’Donovan and Sean O’Hare played well in defence. Richie Foley was not at his best but worked hard in midfield while in attack Mark Ferncombe took his points well but Patrick Hurney, whose goals played a major part in bringing his side this far, never looked like making the same impact in this game.
The final will now take place in Walsh Park on Sunday week and that will be a game to look forward to. The Division 1 minor final between Dungarvan and De La Salle will precede it in a double header.
Scorers:- Ballygunner – Pauric Mahony 0 – 8(7Fs), J. J. Hutchinson 1 – 0, Brian O’Sullivan 0 – 2, Shane O’Sullivan, Stephen Power and Harley Barnes
Abbeyside – Mark Gorman 0 – 4(Fs), Mark Ferncombe 0 – 2, Shane O’Donovan, Gary Hurney, David Collins, Mark Fives and Stephen Enright(Pen.) 0 – 1 each.
BALLYGUNNER – Stephen O’Keeffe, Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, Paul Coughlan, Shane Walsh, Wayne Hutchinson, Alan Kirwan, Philip Mahony, Shane O’Sullivan, David O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony, Harley Barnes, Brian O’Sullivan, Stephen Power, J. J. Hutchinson. Sub – Barry O’Sullivan for Harley Barnes.
ABBEYSIDE – Stephen Enright, Shane O’Donovan, Sean O’Hare, John Power, Shane Briggs, John Gorman, John Hurney, Richie Foley, David Collins, Gavin Breen, Gary Hurney, Mark Fives, Mark Ferncombe, Patrick Hurney, Mark Gorman. Subs – Michael O’Halloran for Breen, Conor Hickey for Collins, Brian Looby for Fives, Shane Crotty for M. Gorman.
Referee – Michael O’Brien.