Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ballygunner 1-21


Thurles Sarsfields 1-19


Ballygunner’s Pauric Mahony is surrounded by supporters at the end of the game after their Munster Club SHC Quarter-final win over Thurles Sarsfields on Sunday. Photo: INPHO/Ken Sutton.

Munster Club SHC Quarter-final – Ballyguner v Thurles Sarsfields – The Talking Points

As the game ticked into injury-time in Walsh Park on Sunday, Waterford champions, Ballygunner led by two and looked destined to avenge for last year’s one point defeat to Thurles Sars at the same stage and book their place in yet another Munster SHC semi-final but the Tipperary kingpins had other ideas and a two late points, the final one by former Tipp great, Lar Corbett, ensured that the game ended level, on a score of 1-15 each and so was bound for extra-time.
Considering that this was Ballygunner’s seventh weekend in action in a row and Thurles Sars were coming into the game after a three week break since their easy County Final win, you would have thought that there would be only one winner in extra-time. Surely the exertions of seven successive weeks and maybe even a bit of well deserved celebrating last weekend would catch up on the Gunners but the men in black and red had other ideas.
Fergal Hartley said after that they knew if the game came down to fitness then they would win. That’s some statement considering what they’ve given in terms of effort over the last two months, never mind the inter-county players in their ranks and the season they’ve had, but he was right. Never once did it look like they were the team out for seven weeks in a row and in the end they finished stronger. Which really is incredible and a huge indictment on the work of physical trainer Shay Fitzpatrick, Hartley and all involved in the Ballygunner backroom team.

They led by 1-18 to 1-16 midway through extra-time and despite the fact that the Tipp men pulled them back to level midway through the second period of extra-time, it was the Gunners who finished the stronger and edged out a pulsating encounter by two at the end, 1-21 to 1-19. Fantastic stuff, not just physically but mentally.
This Ballygunner team is mentally tough. Teak tough.
After coasting through the majority of this year’s Waterford senior hurling championship, they looked odds on to ease to a fourth county title in a row but deep into the final passages of their semi-final with Lismore in Fraher Field they looked to be heading out of the championship before turning it around late on in terrible conditions to survive what would have been one of the biggest shocks in the history of the county SHC to book their place in yet another county final. That took guts and serious mental strength. This team has that in spades. Once they did that, I couldn’t see them losing to De La Salle in the County Final and so it proved. They were never going to be beaten that day and I think they decided the same last Sunday, especially after the hurt of their late late defeat to the same opposition in Thurles, 12 months ago.
Their mental strength was tested still further when they lost the services of leading attacker, Brian O’Sullivan, to a serious looking injury after 42 minutes. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves or ruing the loss of one of their main men, the dug in further and got it done for Brian. The mark of a great team.
But having watched most of Ballygunner’s title wins this century, what sets this team apart for me is the strength in depth and they showed that again on Sunday.

I always felt that the Gunners were short a few players, especially over the past decade or so, to win a Munster club, having gotten their hands on the News & Star Cup but I’ve thought and said for a while now that they’re a different animal this year. I don’t think there’s any weak links on the starting 15 and they have a stronger bench than they’ve had probably since they last won the Munster Club title back in 2001. That’s huge in this competition, especially after a long hard year. They showed that again on Sunday with David Walsh, JJ Hutchinson Conor Sheehan and Barry and Tim O’Sullivan all making big contributions off the line. In fact the bench notched up three huge points down the stretch.
Unfortunately there’s no break for Ballygunner as they’re out again next week, for the eight week in a row. The positive, aside from the fact that they’re back in a Munster semi-final, is that they’ll be lining out in Walsh Park for the third Sunday in a row and with two wins from two over the past fortnight, they’ll be hoping to make it three from three against Clare champions, Sixmilebridge.
Obviously this will be another tough clash but after last Sunday’s game, the Gunners will most likely go into this game as favourites but Sixmilebridge, who are looking to make their first Munster Final since 2013, will have other ideas. They come into the game after the perfect two week break since their County Final success and I’ve no doubt they’ll come to Walsh Park relishing the chance of causing an upset.
It should be another cracker and hopefully the Gunners can make it eight wins in eight weeks and return to Munster Club Final day against hot favourites Na Piarsaigh of Limerick or rank outsiders, Blackrock of Cork.
Let’s hope that’s exactly what they do. Best of luck lads, Waterford is behind you.

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