St Finbarr's 1-23 Ballincollig 2-18
THIS was a bruising and brilliant advertisement for the best of Cork underage hurling.
St Finbarr's were narrow victors after a pulsating Rebel Óg Premier 1 minor hurling group game that ebbed and flowed and appeared to be heading the way of the hosts when they led by five points with 11 minutes to go.
Goals from impressive attacking duo Mark Oldham and Cian O'Driscoll, who shot 2-7 from play between them, had given the Collig a 2-15 to 1-13 advantage and significant momentum coming out of the second-half water break.
Yet the Barrs, who have Jimmy Barry-Murphy involved as a selector, held their nerve. They didn't chase goals and with Ethan Twomey and Ben O'Connor hoovering up some crucial loose ball in the middle third, fed Jack Cahalane inside.
Cahalane, despite being double-teamed throughout, finished with a haul of 1-5 from play. Crucially he was fouled for two frees and forced a 65 in the dying minutes of normal time which the excellent Ben Cunningham duly converted.
Dynamic midfielder Brian Keating clipped over a free after a foul on the powerful James Dwyer to edge the Collig one up with time running. However, Cunningham curled over a sensational point from play to level again.
The standard of hurling was extremely high and there was savage intensity in every sector, facilitated by the refereeing of Cathal Egan, who let the game flow as much as possible.
A draw would have been a fair result but Rebel Óg have bizarrely mandated all these group games must be decided on the night so on we went to extra time.
Ballincollig returned to the fray with lovely scores by Harry Aherne and the dangerous David O'Sullivan, but the Barrs would hit the last four points, including a gem from William Buckley, who had a serious tussle with Tadhg O'Connell all through.
Ballincollig did come close to pilfering a goal just before half-time in extra time but there was only one point, a monster free by Cunningham from his own 65, in the remaining 10 minutes. These young hurlers had left it all out there and we were privileged to witness it.
Big guns Twomey, Cunningham, Cahalane and Ben O'Connor were key figures in the end for the Blues, but their spirit and drive marks them down as potential champions. Defensively Shane Kennedy and Ruairí Fitzpatrick tightened up at the business end of the contest.
They'll now top the group with Ibane Gaels to come, while Douglas and Ballincollig is a de facto quarter-final, as they have a win apiece. Home advantage could be telling for Douglas, with the Sars and the Glen already through on the other side of the draw.
Scorers for St Finbarr's: B Cunningham 0-15 (0-10 f, 0-1 65), J Cahalane 1-5, M Nason, E Twomey, W Buckley 0-1 each.
Ballincollig: C O'Driscoll 1-4, M Oldham 1-3, D O'Sullivan 0-4 (0-2 f), B Keating 0-4 (0-3 f), D O'Mahony 0-2, H Aherne 0-1.
St FINBARR'S: D McSweeney; S Kennedy, R Fitzpatrick, R Doyle; D Kennedy, B O'Connor, JJ O'Connor; E Twomey, M Nason; C Doolan, B Cunningham, G Gowen; W Buckley, J Cahalane, A Buckley.
Subs: C O'Neill for A Buckley (36), F Crowley for Nason (46), R O'Sullivan, J Gould (in for extra time).
BALLINCOLLIG: D Keohane; M Donovan, S Dore, R O'Neill; R O'Connor (c), S O'Donoghue, H Ahearne; B Keating, T O'Connell; D Ebili, J Dwyer, C O'Driscoll; M Oldham, D O'Sullivan, D O'Mahony.
Subs: C Lyons for Ebili (44), D Ward for O'Connor (67 inj).
Referee: C Lyon (Glen Rovers).