BRIDE ROVERS had the calculators out trying to identify their quarter-final opponents in the CO-OP Superstores county SAHC after their battling 0-20 to 1-13 win over Ballymartle in Riverstown at the weekend.
It meant they topped Group 3 with five points, one more than Ballyhea, who drew for the second time against Carrigtwohill, but Fr O’Neill’s and Fermoy completed 100% records in the other sections and so gained the two semi-final berths.
Bride finished number three seeds to face the team ranked six and that came in the unlikely shape of Cloyne, who came like a bolt of lightning to elbow Newcestown and Mallow out of the race.
Cloyne entered the final round of group games at the bottom of Group 1 and with a minus nine scoring difference, looking destined for the relegation play-off.
But, their 13-point win over injury-ravaged Newcestown help them leapfrog their rivals and claim the last knock-out place on +4 compared to Mallow’s -3 and Newcestown’s -13, all finishing on two points.
Bride prevailed after an uncompromising near 73 minutes’ hurling in which they conceded the first score, but never trailed again though Ballymartle restored parity on four occasions.
“Ideally, we’d have loved a semi-final spot, but we’re just happy to be through to the knock-out phase,” said selector Liam Barry afterwards.
“We’ve two weeks to prepare for the next game and we’ll get ready.”
The Rathcormac club had braced themselves for a meaty Ballymartle challenge and it duly arrived as the Riverstick club battled for their lives.
“Yet, it was something we expected coming down to Riverstown because the beauty of this competition is that while you might be out of the championship itself, you have a relegation fight to avoid.
“This was our fourth time playing Ballymartle in the last five years and they’ve all been very close games, so we knew it was going to be tough and close.”
Cloyne’s victory took them out of the relegation issue which is now a straight shoot-out between Ballymartle and Killeagh, who pushed the favourites Fr O’Neill’s all the way in a four-point loss.
The key period arrived at the junction of the third and fourth quarters after Ballymartle capitalised on the dangers of the cross-field ball coming from defence.
Bride paid the price in the 40th minute as Simon Dorney intercepted and sensed the possibility of a goal, setting up Kevin Fitzpatrick, who flashed a shot past keeper Cian Hogan.
It brought the sides level at 0-11 to 1-8, but Bride’s class and experience shone through to claim the next five scores, a pair each for the outstanding Brian Roche and Adam Walsh from frees after Cillian Tobin began the sequence in a decisive eight-minute spell.
“That was crucial. The goal may have come against the run of play, but it brought Ballymartle right back into it.
“Our response, however, was superb, with those five unanswered points and that was the key to the win.
“Brian was fantastic in that regard for us as was Cillian, another young fellow going very well, while Adam’s free-taking was another influential part in the win.”
Bride have a nice blend of youth and experience and with a strong bench from which to pluck more seasoned campaigners.
“We brought on players like William Finnegan and Michael Collins to close it out and overall you’d have to say it was a professional enough performance.”
The only blot on the evening was the red card dismissal of wing-forward Cian O’Connor in the 53rd minute for an off-the-ball incident which rules him out of the Cloyne game as a consequence.
“I thought we played it sensibly with the 14 men, denied them opportunities to get back into the game and we saw it out well,” Barry concluded.
Captain Patrick O’Flynn again led by example from right half-back and landed a couple of fine long-range frees in the second-half to supplement the scoring.