In arguably the greatest game played in Cusack Park this year, Ballyea showed why honesty and character will prevail as they booked their place in the Munster Club SHC final with an extra time win over Thurles Sarsfields.
Páraic McMahon reports from Cusack Park
Thurles Sarsfields 2-22
Venue: Cusack Park
Seven points adrift with nine minutes remaining, few of the 2,413 spectators would have forecast a Ballyea victory, but those who doubted didn’t envisage a comeback that epitomised all that is good about the sport. Thurles Sarsfields may have thought the game was over but missed goal chances on their behalf mixed with some complacency means they will be having some nightmares for the remainder of the year.
Conor Lanigan was first off the mark fifty five seconds into the game when he pointed. Ballyea’s first score was idyllic, a Paul Flanagan delivery was won in the air by Niall Deasy who was fouled inside the square and the resulting penalty was hammered home by a certain Tony Kelly.
Tommy Doyle responded with a point for Thurles but in their next attack Ballyea struck for goal once more. James Murphy was the recipient of Kevin Sheehan’s puckout and he launched the ball into the square and Clare footballer Pearse Lillis was alert to flick the sliotar past Patrick McCormack. Kelly added two scores on the bounce to put Robbie Hogan’s side five points up with eleven minutes played.
A long range effort from Aidan McCormack went all the way to the back of Kevin Sheehan’s net on thirteen minutes. The Tipperary champions hit the next six scores to build up a lead of four points. Niall Deasy ended an eighteen minute scoring drought for Ballyea when he slotted over a free. John Maher and Patjoe Connolly traded efforts before Tommy Doyle added the final score of the half to leave Sarsfields four points in front at the break.
Deasy registered the first score of the second half with another free. Pa Bourke hit over two placed balls at the other end to keep a distance of five points. Kelly and Lanigan exchanged scores before two Bourke white flags left Sarsfields seven points in front with ten minutes remaining on the clock.
Former Hurlers of the Year, Tony Kelly and Lar Corbett added points at either end. Ballyea added the next three scores to continue chipping away at the lead until Pa Bourke settled the visitors with three minutes of normal time left. However they would be left scoreless for the remainder as Kelly and Pearse Lillis tagged on points before Gary Brennan controlled a nice Jack Browne sideline cut, took on his man and buried the ball to the roof of the net to send the tie to extra time.
Tony Kelly and Aidan McCormack were the point scorers in the opening half of extra time. Crucially Ballyea raised another green flag, a vital turnover from Cathal Doohan kickstarted a move that was finished by Damien Burke.
In the second half of extra time Thurles clawed their way back. Pa Bourke converted another placed ball and Padraic Maher picked up their second goal of the game after Jack Browne who was dragged to the ground wasn’t awarded a free and the breaking ball fell to the All-Ireland winner who fired past Kevin Sheehan. With five minutes left Stephen Cahill raised a white flag for the Tipp side but Niall Deasy hit over three vital points to send Ballyea on their way to their first provincial club final appearance.
To put in a performance like they did in what was the club’s first appearance in a Munster competition was truly outstanding from Ballyea. As has been the case all year they refused to panic and showed a self-belief that is found amongst winners. They let Thurles dictate at the end of the first half and into the beginning of the second half but they never let up and most admirably they never gave up.
They lost both Martin O’Leary and Brian Carrigg to injury inside the first ten minutes, already without Eoghan Donnellan their resources were tested but as they’re beginning to show Ballyea love a test and above that they embrace smashing a test. This was a battling and courageous display from Ballyea as they went toe to toe in the ring with Thurles for eighty minutes. Of their contingent Tony Kelly, Cathal Doohan, Stan Lineen, Jack Browne and James Murphy packed the heaviest punches that would leave their opponents reeling.
Complacency seemed to drift into the Thurles team as the game progressed. Instead of driving on and putting Ballyea away, they seemed to relax and paid the price for doing so. Both teams went without a score between the forty first and forty ninth minute of the game, this was a spell when Sars were on top and if they added more scores in this period they would have won.
They struggled to deal with the delivery of high ball into Gary Brennan at the start of the game and conceded two goals before they did anything to fix the problem as they pushed Ronan Maher back to full back. By no means is this is a bad Thurles team but it is one that will be wondering what might have been for the next four months or so. Aidan McCormack, Padraic Maher and Pa Bourke did best for them.
Glen Rovers of Cork await Ballyea in the provincial decider which takes place on November 20th.
Ballyea: Kevin Sheehan; Joe Neylon, Jack Browne, Brian Carrigg; Paul Flanagan, Gearoid O’Connell, James Murphy; Tony Kelly (1-10 1’Pen 2f 1’65), Stan Lineen; Niall Deasy (0-05 3f 1’65), Patjoe Connolly (0-01), Cathal Doohan; Martin O’Leary, Gary Brennan (1-00), Pearse Lillis (1-01). Subs: Damien Burke (1-01) for O’Leary (5) (Inj), David Egan for Carrigg (10) (Inj), Aonghus Keane for Connolly (47), Francie Neylon for Egan (62).
Thurles Sarsfields: Patrick McCormack; Stephen Maher, Stephen Lillis, Rory Dwan; Denis Maher, Padraic Maher, Ronan Maher (0-01); John Maher (0-01), Stephen Cahill (0-01); Billy McCarthy, Aidan McCormack (1-04), Tommy Doyle (0-03); Lar Corbett (0-01), Pa Bourke (0-09 6f), Conor Lanigan (0-02). Subs: Michael O’Brien for Lanigan (50), Kevin Dunne for Doyle (56), David Kennedy for Lillis (61), Cathal Moloney for Corbett (62), Lar Corbett for Moloney (FT), Stephen Lillis for Dunne (FT), Conor Lanigan for J Maher (FT), John Maher for Lanigan (70).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)
All photos by Martin Connolly