Ballyea won the Clare Senior Hurling Championship for the first time in their eighty two year history when they overcame the challenge of Clonlara on the second time of asking in the replayed final.
Páraic McMahon reports from Cusack Park
Venue: Cusack Park
October 30th 2016 is a day that will live on forevermore in the history of Ballyea hurling club, it is the day in which they played to their potential as a unit and finally got their hands on the Canon Hamilton. Their appetite was infectious and their display was one full of character and class, this was the hour that Ballyea came of age in front of an attendance of 5,058.
Seeing as it was Clonlara who forced the game to a replay, there was a view out there that Ballyea didn’t take their chance. They seized the opportunity from the get-go, once the ball was thrown in they were chomping at the bit to get possession firstly and then to cause damage.
What is learned in between a drawn game and a replay is pivotal, Robbie Hogan and his management took the most from their clash two weeks ago and the decision to move Gary Brennan to full-forward had the desired impact.
Clonlara on the other hand tried their best to come with a different approach but by taking Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell out of their half-forward line they lost a spark. Tots was moved in alongside John Conlon in the inside line but neither received enough ball to have a proper effect.
Gary Brennan was first on the scoreboard, Gearoid O’Connell swept up a Clonlara puckout and launched the ball on top of the towering St Flannan’s schoolteacher and he controlled the sliotar and slot between the posts. Patjoe Connolly doubled their lead less than a minute later while Nicky O’Connell opened Clonlara’s account on the fifth minute from a free.
Ger O’Connell pulled off an excellent save to deny Brennan a certain goal as he deflected the shot over the crossbar on the sixth minute. County man Tony Kelly hit over a 65 after O’Connell was on hand this time to stop a Martin O’Leary attempt.
While he didn’t execute his first goal chance, Gary Brennan tapped home his second effort, Martin O’Leary dispossessed Ger O’Connell and put Brennan straight through on goal and the Clare football captain duly flicked the ball to the back of the net.
This seemed to be the wake-up call for Clonlara as they cancelled out the goal with three points in succession via Tots O’Connell, John Conlon and Mícheál O’Loughlin.
However all their work was diminished when Niall Deasy struck home Ballyea’s second goal at the end of the first quarter to put his side six points clear. Patjoe Connolly offloaded to Deasy who was afforded too much space by his opposing defenders as they suddenly lost pace and he drove the sliotar past the helpless Ger O’Connell.
Again Clonlara came back fighting with Tots O’Connell adding three converted frees on the bounce. Joe Neylon and Colm Galvin swapped scores before the half-time whistle which left three points between the teams.
On the resumption both sides added four scores each inside the opening ten minutes to keep with the tight nature of the three-week running drama. Clonlara found themselves back on level terms when captain John Conlon was the recipient of a Colm Galvin sideline cut and once he found his range there was to be no stopping the Clare senior.
Conlon appeared to have put his side in front but confusion between two of Damien Fox’s umpires resulted in a wide ball. Niall Deasy ended a nine minute scoring drought when he pointed on the forty ninth minute but his effort was immediately cancelled out by a Tots O’Connell white flag.
Tony Kelly and Tots exchanged scores to leave the sides level with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Substitute David Egan had a glorious chance to collect Ballyea’s third green flag only for an excellent block from Garrett Kennedy prevented any danger.
With the game in the melting pot the Bally boys found an extra gear and hit over the final three scores of the game with Niall Deasy, Damien Burke and Tony Kelly all on target as they marched on to secure their first ever senior championship.
When every member of a full-back line registers on the scoreboard the chances of success are very high, Brian Carrigg, Jack Browne and Joe Neylon all scored points for their beloved Ballyea which summarises the type of team performance given by the champions. Previously when their talisman Tony Kelly missed some frees they would falter, while he hit three wides from placed balls today the key difference was that his teammates stood up and were counted allowing Kelly to remain confident and chip in with vital scores.
From play they scored 2-12 in comparison to Clonlara’s 1-06. They never panicked even when their opponents came back fighting they managed to hold tough. Their management deserve great credit for how much they took from the drawn encounter. Niall Deasy put his hand up for selection on the County senior panel with a fine display, Gearoid O’Connell and Gary Brennan were very impressive but Ballyea are now playing as a team with each player making their contribution and it is why they are now on the Clare SHC roll of honour.
After losing out at the semi-final stage in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Clonlara conquered their problem in getting past the last four as they made it to the decider last year only to lose out to Sixmilebridge. Now they have lost two county finals in a row they will be asking questions as to why they can’t perform to their capability on county final day.
Over the course of this game it was admirable to see the South East Clare club bounce back every time they were knocked down. They responded immediately to the two goals but they struggled to get their own chances on goal while their inability to keep the sliotar in their hand was startling. Colm Galvin, Shane O’Brien, Tots O’Connell and John Conlon did best for the Clonlara man who failed to supply their Conlon with enough ball. Without doubt there is a title in this team but they need to get to the root of the problem as to why they’re falling to hit their peak on the biggest day.
Ballyea: Kevin Sheehan; Brian Carrigg (0-01), Jack Browne (0-01), Joe Neylon (0-01); Paul Flanagan, Gearoid O’Connell, James Murphy; Tony Kelly (0-04 1’65), Stan Lineen; Niall Deasy (1-03 1f), Patjoe Connolly (0-01), Cathal Doohan; Martin O’Leary, Gary Brennan (1-02), Pearse Lillis. Subs: Damien Burke (0-01) for O’Leary (44), David Egan for Connolly (53).
Clonlara: Ger O’Connell; Cillian Fennessy, Domhnall O’Donovan, Garrett Kennedy; Cormac O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell (0-01 f), Neil Ryan; Colm Galvin (0-02), Oisin O’Brien; Mícheál O’Loughlin (0-01), Darach Honan (0-01), James Hastings; Ger Powell, John Conlon (1-01), Cathal Tots O’Connell (0-08 7f). Subs: Shane O’Brien for Ryan (24), Pat O’Hare for C O’Donovan (38), Paraic O’Loughlin for O’Hare (58), David Fitzgerald for Galvin (60) (Inj).
Referee: Damien Fox (Clooney/Quin)
All photos by Martin Connolly