Fr O'Neill's are Munster hurling champions again after bruising battle

Fr O'Neill's are Munster hurling champions again after bruising battle
The Fr O'Neill's players celebrate after defeating Ballysaggart. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Fr O’Neill’s 2-15 Ballysaggart 0-17

A SEVERE test of Fr O’Neill’s credential at the Fraher Field in Dungarvan yesterday but one that they came through with flying colours in the end to land the Munster Club IHC title.

This was real winter hurling, no quarter asked or given, a test of endurance all the way through with the Cork and Waterford champions giving it their all.

This was O’Neill’s hardest match of the year, a year that has now ended gloriously with the club’s second provincial crown, adding to the junior title of 14 years ago.

Ballysaggart really put it up to them, never allowing them to relax at any stage in a compelling contest that was in doubt until Deccie Dalton fired over a free deep into stoppage time that gave the East Cork team a four-point advantage. The difference in the end between the two sides was that O’Neill’s scored a brace of crucial goals, one in each half and those scores were hugely significant.

Fr O'Neill's Deccie Dalton shoots against Ballysaggart. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Deccie Dalton shoots against Ballysaggart. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The second one particularly so because it arrived just after the interval to put them five points clear.

Ballysaggart did it bring it back to two points with 10 minutes remaining but that was as close as they got.

O’Neill’s had many players contributing to their success, their defence putting their bodies on the line at times in keeping the Ballysaggart attack at bay.

Ger Millerickwas outstanding at full-back, his brother Mike and Tom contributing handsomely too and Dan Harrington also very consistent Five of their starting six forwards got on the scoresheet, Dalton and Billy Dunne delivering the all-important goals.

Paudie McMahon rifled over a few big points while veteran Eoin Conway posted a big one too Stephen Bennett, lining out at centre-back, was Ballysaggart’s top scorer, his brother Shane got a few too while midfielder Christy Murphy had a fine match and secured some superb points.

There was little or nothing between the teams in the opening half with Ballygunner having the better of things early on and leading by 0-6 to 0-3 after 11 minutes But the pendulum swung in O’Neill’s direction in the 15th minute when Billy Dunne drilled home a sublime O’Neill’s goal.

It was 1-8 to 0-9 at the interval, O’Neill’s shading it after a Dalton attempt for another O’Neill’s goal from a free was saved.

However, the O’Neill’s full-forward was at the end of a splendid move shortly after they resumed, Dunne and McMahon setting him up to belt past Michael Ryan in the Ballysaggart goal.

The Waterford team’s response was a pair of points from Stephen and Shane Bennett.

A Christy Murphy point for Ballysaggart in the 50th minute left just two points dividing the teams and the stage was set for a fierce battle for supremacy coming down the home stretch.

O’Neill’s subs Liam O’Driscoll and Jason Hankard got on the board with a couple of huge points but Ballysaggart would not go away.

Fr O'Neill's Rob Cullinane tussles with Ballysaggart's Stephen Bennett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Rob Cullinane tussles with Ballysaggart's Stephen Bennett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Stephen Bennett followed with points in the 57th and 58th minutes and it was a three-point game as we entered the four minutes of stoppage time.

In that time the O’Neill’s defence had to be on red alert as Ballysaggart went in search of the goal which would have forced extra-time.

But the Cork champions defence was not for turning and the day in Dungarvan was completed when Dalton fired over his seventh point from the placed ball.

So ended a gripping contest that had the attendance on the edge of their seats in those closing, frenetic minutes.

Ballysaggart's Ronan Walsh breaks his hurley against Fr O'Neill's Mark O'Keeffe. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ballysaggart's Ronan Walsh breaks his hurley against Fr O'Neill's Mark O'Keeffe. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

But it was O’Neill’s day, this is their time to make hay and they are doing that with some aplomb.

This was a massive examination but they posted top marks again.

Next up in the All-Ireland semi-final is Tooren from Mayo, the Connacht champions in January but it will be a very good Christmas in Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda.

Scorers for Fr O’Neill’s: D Dalton 1-7 (0-7 f), B Dunne 1-1, P McMahon 0-2, J Millerick, R Cullinane, E Conway, J Hankard and L O’Driscoll 0-1 each.

Ballysaggart: Stephen Bennett 0-8 (0-5 f), C Murphy 0-4, Shane Bennett 0-2 f, Chris O’Gorman 0-2, K Cashel 0-1.

FR O’NEILL’S: C Sloane; P Butler, G Millerick, M Millerick; J Barry, D Harrington (Joint-Capt), T Millerick; J Millerick, K O’Sullivan; M O’Keeffe (Joint-Capt), R Cullinane, P McMahon; E Conway, D Dalton, B Dunne.

Subs: L O’Driscoll for E Conway (40), J Hankard for J Millerick (48), C Broderick for J Barry (59).

BALLYSAGGART: M Ryan; Cailean O’Gorman, K Fennessy, E O’Brien; S Mangan (Joint-Capt), Stephen Bennett, D Meagher; Kieran Bennett, C Murphy; R Walsh, Shane Bennett (Joint-Capt), Chris O’Gorman; L O’Gorman, K Cashel, Kyle Bennett.

Sub: S Ryan for L O’Gorman (half time).

Referee John McCormack (Tipperary)

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