Ballygunner’s manager Fergal Hartley. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie.
Munster Club SHC Final: Ballygunner v Na Piarsaigh: Ballygunner manager – Fergal Hartley
No club has suffered more than Ballygunner on Munster final day. This was their eighth loss from nine appearances.
Fergal Hartley handled his fifth final defeat and a first as manager in magnanimous fashion. Na Piarsaigh outscored the Gunners 3-9 to 1-6 in the second half and they were forced to watch on as Cathall King delivered his speech as Gaeilge.
No gripes from the red corner with the result but their first loss in an eleven-game season still came as a crushing disappointment. “We’re gutted really. We came up here to win and we thought we would win. We knew that we were up against a serious team in Na Piarsaigh. That’s four in seven years at this stage so they have to be ranked up there as one of the greatest teams in Munster. We were beaten by a very good side and we can’t have any complaints. In fairness to the boys, they left everything out there on the pitch. The scoreline is a bit hard on us in the end but I think they were the better team on the day.”
The third quarter proved a damaging phase as Na Piarsaigh posted 1-3 without reply to completely negate Ballygunner’s blistering start to the second half. “When we went four points up, I thought we were in a really strong position,” reflected Hartley.“It was such a tight game and it was so hard to get scores. They just let loose for a period of ten minutes and that’s what good teams do. We didn’t have the answers during that period. You have to give great credit to Na Piarsaigh for the way they fought back. They had been winning a lot of their games comfortably, they hadn’t been in too many games where they were under that much pressure. They responded very well and that’s what proper Munster champions do.”
In keeping with their never say die spirit throughout the backend of the campaign, Peter Hogan’s goal only left them a point down with two minutes to play. Hartley felt that they could pinch it in a grandstand finish. “When we got that goal, I thought we would kick on because we have been finishing games very strongly. I thought that when it came down to a tight game that we would do it. Again, that’s what champions are made of. That’s why they are the champions and they have been three times in the past. I’m very proud of our lads. They left everything out there. It certainly wasn’t for want of effort.”
Those two memorable victories against Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge will stand the test of time even though they didn’t lead to the Billy O’Neill trophy. “They were two great wins and I suppose we will always have those but ultimately we didn’t get the prize we wanted. We thought that we were after coming through two hard games and we knew that the fence was even bigger this time around. We thought we were up to it but we came up that little bit short.”
Long way back
Hartley warned that there’s no guarantee of a swift return to a provincial final despite their recent dominance on home soil and abundance of underage riches. “Winning Waterford in its own right is very, very difficult. You saw that this year in the semi final against Lismore and the final against De La Salle. Thankfully we came through both of those games but it’s a very tough championship to win from our perspective even though we’ve won four in a row and people think that we always have a great chance. It seems like a long way to get back here again at this stage. That’s for another day. In the New Year, we’ll go at it again and see where it takes us but it’s long way back here again.”