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Wed 05-Dec-2001 9:32
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Nicky and Justin on the Phone
Fair play to Ballygunner on capturing their first Munster club hurling championship and in the process confounding An Moltóir’s prediction that the Rockies would prevail in Thurles last Sunday. This prediction was based, not on any doubts about the inherent ability of the Waterford side, but on a long history of failure by teams from the Déise (including the Gunners themselves) on big occasions. Last Sunday it was the Cork champions who had the temperament problems with their litany of bad first half wides this is the kind of thing one had come to expect from representatives of the lesser hurling counties.
We will never know how Ballygunner would have reacted had Blackrock taken even half of these chances and gone in at half time six points ahead. As it was, the Gunners were struggling badly in the ten minutes leading up to the break, with the familiar fumbling and foostering pointing to an ominous level of mental fragility. However, Paul Foley’s early second half goal settled the team and boosted their confidence, and from then on they dominated the exchanges. Whether they would have continued to do so had Rory O’Sullivan been sent off, as he should have been following his attempt to cut Brian O’Keeffe in half, is another moot point.
Some of the match statistics are instructive. An Moltóir counted only fourteen times that the Ballygunner fullback line played the ball between them (Wayne Sherlock probably played as much ball on this own). By contrast, the Gunners’ halfback line played the ball a total of thirty-eight times. This was the line which broke the back of the Blackrock challenge, cutting off the supply lines to the inside men. Another crucial factor was the way the Ballygunner players complemented each other. Paul Power was immense at midfield in the first half, playing the ball ten times. When he faded in the second half, his partner Tom Fives thundered into the game, also playing the ball ten times compared to five in the first half. Similarly, with Andy Moloney playing less ball after half time, Mick Mahoney took up the slack, in the process easily delivering his most effective display of the campaign so far.
However, the one constant factor throughout was the magnificent Fergal Hartley, who played the ball nine times in each half for an overall total of eighteen - a very high total in any hurling game. Always a lovely hurler, Hartley has been inclined to get lost in the wide open spaces of Thurles in the past. This year, he looks leaner, fitter and stronger, and his contribution to the Gunners’ success has been crucial. However, this is not to take from a wonderful overall team effort and a collective fighting spirit which would do wonders if it could be translated to the county hurling team.
In retrospect, the early season view that Ballygunner had passed their sell-by date now looks rather off-target. Their defence, which a couple of years ago was inclined to leak scores at an alarming rate, has been greatly strengthened by the addition of youngsters Alan Kirwan and Colin Kehoe. Up front, Andy Moloney has been a massive addition, and was second only to Hartley in providing leadership and drive last Sunday. One suspects that his telephone is tingling with calls from Nicky English and Justin McCarthy this week. Paul Foley is also beginning to exert a major influence. Foley scored two goals in the 1992 All-Ireland minor hurling final and shortly afterwards moved from then junior club Stradbally to Ballygunner. However, his obvious distaste for the privations of hard training meant that he never made it to senior ranks until this year. If he were to shed a couple of stone from his excessive avoirdupois, he could be a very formidable proposition indeed.
The one major blemish in the Ballygunner line-up is the persistent placing of Daragh O’Sullivan at corner forward. During the 45 minutes that he spent on the field last Sunday, O’Sullivan got possession just once, and that was in the first minute. This has been typical of his contribution throughout the campaign. One has to admire the patience of understudy Tony Carroll, who has repeatedly done more during his brief appearances as substitute than O’Sullivan has managed during his much longer spells on the pitch. It was extraordinary, after the impact he made when coming on in the replay against Toomevara, that Carroll was not played from the start last Sunday. Ballygunner fans should be asking serious questions about a selectorial policy which would allow the club’s championship prospects to be jeopardised in this way.
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