Ballyea book place in All-Ireland final

Ballyea players celebrate. Pic: Martin Connolly

Ballyea will compete in the All-Ireland club senior hurling final on St Patrick’s Day after they survived a late fightback from St Thomas’ on Saturday evening.

Ballyea 1-19
St Thomas’ 2-14
Venue: Semple Stadium, Thurles

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It marks the first time since St Josephs Doora/Barefield’s appearance in the March 2000 decider that a Clare club will vie for the top national honours in the club scene.

Entering the final quarter, Ballyea led by thirteen points but they were made work for the victory by St Thomas’ who reduced the gap to a single point only for a late Tony Kelly late point which sealed the win and gave their large amount of supporters a chance to catch their breath.

Niall Deasy was first off the mark from a placed ball on the sixth minute, he added another a minute after. Darragh Burke opened St Thomas’ account on the eighth minute before a quick Tony Kelly sideline cut was attacked at pace by Gearoid O’Connell whose touch was just as sharp and he pointed from an acute angle to really set the tempo for the Munster champions.

Deasy and Kenneth Burke traded efforts before Ballyea hit five points in succession to extend their advantage to seven points with twenty four minutes on the clock. St Thomas’ missed three scoreable frees in the opening half and would later rue those spurned chances. Darragh Burke took over the free taking duties and made no mistake from a 65 while Deasy hit the final score of the half to leave it 0-10 0-03 at the break.

St Thomas’ seemed more fired up on the resumption and took the game to their counterparts as they finally realised what they were playing for. Darragh Burke and Tony Kelly traded scores as did Deasy and Burke moments after.

A breaking ball from a Kevin Sheehan puck-out fell straight to Tony Kelly who split the posts and this was followed by a Patjoe Connolly effort to extend the gap to nine points. On forty one minutes they struck for goal as Tony Kelly won back possession in his own half, shrugged off some challenges and found Stan Lineen, the captain directed into space and in the direction of Niall Deasy who controlled the sliotar, held off his man and powered past him before nestling the ball past goalkeeper Patrick Skehill.

In their next attack, Conor Cooney dispatched a free past five men on the goal-line to cancel out Deasy’s strike. A new recruit to Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s senior panel, Niall Deasy then popped over two scores in succession before St Thomas’ took over.

John Burke’s charges scored seven points on the trot as they won break after break in their half-back line. Cathal Doohan shot over a much needed score for the men in Black and Amber on the fifty sixth minute to leave four between them.

Darragh Burke made no mistake pointing two frees in a row before Anthony Kelly’s rebound from a Kevin Sheehan save went over the line to cut the deficit to one point as additional time commenced. Ballyea’s nerves were settled somewhat as Tony Kelly steadied the ship with a point but there was huge relief for the Clare champions when Sean Cleere blew his final whistle.

Thomas’ will live to regret their opening half display, they showed what they were made of in the final quarter but had they got going sooner it may well have been them getting ready for an All-Ireland final and not their opponents. Opportunities presented themselves and the Galway men didn’t take them such as missed frees in the first half and two goal chances from Sean Skehill.

Being an ambitious side, they will not settle with having only won the Galway championship. While they did come up short, they made sure Ballyea worked for the victory. James Regan and Darragh Burke did well from start to finish for the 2013 All-Ireland champions.

There is an Irish seánfhocail, ‘Tús maith, leath na hoibre’ which means a good start is half the work. That was certainly the case for Ballyea as they laid the foundations of their victory in the opening thirty minutes, those said foundations were tested but thankfully for them Robbie Hogan a tiler by profession along with Fergal Hegarty and their extended management had them well prepared for the outing.

Over the hour, Ballyea’s hurling was superior, their touch crisper and sharper, their distribution and finding the space proved far better than their opponents. They did the simple things right and moreover worked extremely hard. Niall Deasy, Gearoid O’Connell, Tony Kelly, James Murphy and Paul Flanagan did best for the Bally boys.

Ballyea: Kevin Sheehan, Brian Carrigg, Jack Browne, Joe Neylon; Paul Flanagan, Gearoid O’Connell (0-02), James Murphy; Tony Kelly (0-03), Stan Lineen; Niall Deasy (1-11 9f), Patjoe Connolly (0-02), Cathal Doohan (0-01); Pearse Lillis, Gary Brennan, Damien Burke. Subs: Martin O’Leary for Burke (32).

St Thomas’: Patrick Skehill, Fintan Burke, Cathal Burke, Éanna Burke (0-01); Donal Cooney (0-01), Shane Cooney (0-01), James Regan; Bernard Burke, David Burke; Conor Cooney (1-00), Darragh Burke (0-08 5f 2’65), David Sherry; Brendan Farrell, Sean Skehill, Kenneth Burke (0-02). Subs: Anthony Kelly (1-00) for Sherry (21) (Inj), Mark Caulfield for Farrell (44)

Referee: Sean Cleere (Kilkenny)

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