Ballygunner’s Stephen O’Keeffe in action against Sixmilebridge in their AIB GAA Munster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final in Walsh Park. Photo: INPHO/Ken Sutton.
Munster Club SHC Semi-final: Ballygunner v Sixmilebridge: Ballgyunner’s Stephen O’Keeffe
A Ballygunner well-wisher firmly shook the hand of Stephen O’Keeffe as the crowd milled about the pitch after this Munster blockbuster. “Congratulations on both counts!”
On Thursday morning, the 26 year old became Waterford’s twentieth All Star recipient and a first between the posts. In one of the tightest calls on the hurling selection, he was preferred to Anthony Nash. “It was a bit surreal to be honest. I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to happen. Obviously, it’s an honour to get it. It’s something that I can look back on when the year is over and appreciate the fact that I won it. For now, it’s all guns blazing for the Munster final.”
He didn’t get a chance to celebrate properly at the Convention Centre on Friday night. “Not really. The parents came up and they had a much better night than I did!”
O’Keeffe had a ringside view of another nail biting victory on home turf. He relaxed a little after JJ Hutchinson and Billy O’Keeffe gave them a four-point cushion. “It wasn’t until the goal that you could say ‘right if the full back line hold their nerve, we can win this game’. Even then, five minutes later Sixmile had the ball in the net with time nearly up. You’re just saying ‘blow it up ref!’ It’s never easy in Munster championship. One went to extra time and we’re only after winning this one by a point. It’s very tough. We’ll enjoy having a rest next weekend for a change!”
The Gunners were in something of a pickle at the break. A fired up Sixmilebridge piled into the fifty-fifty collisions and struck the last four points of the half. “That can happen. You could see that their blood was up, the fist pumps were going and they were geeing each other up. We were nearly just hoping for half time to come at that stage. We were just trying to batten down the hatches and it was damage limitation almost. That was a strong wind in fairness and we couldn’t really clear the half back line from our own puckouts. It all just led to being under constant pressure. In the second half, we settled down a bit and started passing the ball to the man in the right position, taking that second to look up. The puckouts could go longer as well so we had another option other than just hitting it short. In fairness to the lads, when the pressure was really on, they took that second to look up and give the right pass rather than panicking under the pressure. Sometimes when you’re on the goal, you turn into a bit of a cheerleader. You hit the ball out and you hope that they do the job. They got it done today.”
Even without Brian O’Sullivan, new heroes surfaced in attack when O’Keeffe looked up the field in the second half. The recalled Hutchinson was accountable for 1-3 out of 1-12. “We do have a very strong panel and we have full faith in the subs that come in. Unfortunately for Brian, it’s a devastating loss for us but when you have his replacement come in and score 1-3, it’s a good day’s work as well. It shows the strength in depth we have.”
Waterford hurler Stephen O’Keeffe pictured with his All-Star award during the PwC All Stars 2017 at the Convention Centre in Dublin on Friday night. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile.