*Cillian Brennan. Photograph: Natasha Barton
Ballyea’s Munster club journey came crashing down at the first hurdle when they came off second best to a much-stronger Ballygunner on Sunday afternoon.
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis
From early on, it was clear to the 1,615 spectators at Cusack Park that Ballygunner brought with them a level of workrate and pressure that was going to be hard to match, even for a Ballyea side filled with spirit and character.
Ballygunner not alone possessed an insatiable hunger but their decision making on the ball and movement off it was superb making every single possession count as they posed more questions of Ballyea than a series of Christmas exams.
This pressure saw the lid blow off Ballyea’s chances with frees conceded in their own backline when they were outnumbered and also given no choice but to overcarry the ball. All of these mistakes were dutifully punished by Pauric Mahony on the scoreboard.
Not having played a championship match in 58 days didn’t deter Ballygunner who ensured they defeated a Clare side for the fourth Munster campaign in a row.
Ballyea trailed for the entirety of the game, while the distance was only a single point on seven minutes after Niall Deasy converted a free, the resulting puckout ended up in Barry Coote’s net when Mikey Mahony raised the first green flag giving Ballygunner a cushion that only expanded as the contest progressed.
By half-time, Ballygunner were 1-08 0-03 in front with little scoring options apparent in the Ballyea attack. It would take them forty nine minutes to register their first score from play, this a white flag from Pearse Lillis.
Billy O’Keeffe added to their pain with a goal on forty nine minutes but as ever Ballyea refused to lie down and fought back with two goals. Niall Deasy finished a free to the net after Gary Brennan was brought to ground, while Martin O’Leary also tucked a tidy effort home when he was found with a quick Deasy free.
That would be as good as it got for the Clare champions as the visitors replied with three of the next five scores including another O’Keeffe goal.
For an excellent Ballygunner, Billy O’Keeffe, Mikey Mahony, Conor Sheahan and Shane O’Sullivan stood out.
While they may have tasted county glory without him, progressing in Munster minus Tony Kelly was always going to be a massive challenge for Ballyea. That they are county champions represents a positive season by any standards but the manner of this defeat will cause some hurt. Barry Coote, Gary Brennan and Jack Browne led the charge for Robbie Hogan’s side.
Of concern to clubs around Clare or what should be a major concern is that Ballyea’s Munster final win in November 2016 is the last time the holders of the Canon Hamilton have won in a provincial club clash.
Scorers Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony (0-08 4f 3’65), B O’Keeffe (2-01), M Mahony (1-02), C Sheahan (0-03), C Power (0-02), P Leavey (0-01), S O’Sullivan (0-01), K Mahony (0-01), H Ruddle (0-01 1’65).
Scorers Ballyea: N Deasy (1-05 4f 1’65), M O’Leary (1-00), P Lillis (0-01)
1: Stephen O’Keeffe
4: Tadhg Foley
3: Barry Coughlan
2: Ian Kenny
6: Shane O’Sullivan
20: Philip Mahony
7: Ronan Power
9: Paddy Leavey
8: Conor Sheahan
15: Pauric Mahony
11: Mikey Mahony
12: Peter Hogan
5: Billy O’Keeffe
10: Dessie Hutchinson
14: Kevin Mahony
21: Eddie Hayden for Power (51)
13: Harry Ruddle for K Mahony (51)
22: Conor Power for Hutchinson (53)
18: Barry O’Sullivan for Leavey (56)
17: Jake Foley for Pauric Mahony (59)
1: Barry Coote
2: Peter Casey
3: Paul Flanagan
4: Cian Meaney
5: James Murphy
6: Jack Browne
7: Brandon O’Connell
9: Stan Lineen
8: Gary Brennan
12: Cathal O’Connor
11: Pearse Lillis
10: Cillian Brennan
15: Aaron Griffin
14: Niall Deasy
13: Mossy Gavin
19: Martin O’Leary for Gavin (HT)
18: Aonghus Keane for O’Connor (44)
27: Ryan Griffin for Lineen (47)
17: Brian Murphy for Meaney (48)
Referee: John O’Halloran (Limerick)