WHILE some of last weekend’s 10 county hurling semi-finals may have lacked a degree of competitiveness in the closing stages, three of them did go to extra-time and I was fortunate enough to be present at one.
Kilbrittain and Tracton met in Ballinspittle in the premier junior semi-final, the Carbery team being the favourites.
They contested last year’s final before losing to Lisgoold; this year they won their three group games which gave them, along with Ballygiblin, a straight run to the semi-final.
When the same pairing met in last year’s penultimate match, again at the Courcey Rovers venue less than 11 months ago, Tracton departed to their people on the back of a nine-point defeat.
Allowing for the breeze, the weather was perfect, enabling the supporters to enjoy the proceedings from a perfect viewing bank.
Even though Michael O’Sullivan, returning after suspension, got the first point, Kilbrittain dominated the opening 10 minutes, with free-takers Ross Cashman and Mark Hickey landing one point each and two from play through Maurice Sexton and Bertie Butler.
Meanwhile, the South-East side were finding difficult to find the target.
On 12 minutes, Philip Wall one of the western danger men landed a beauty and there was three between them; all was going to plan.
Tracton had other ideas; in the next 10 minutes they scored six without reply, including four from play.
They led by three, but from there until half-time the pendulum swung again and when the short whistle sounded the sides were level for the fourth time, 0-10 each.
For the entire second half, there was never more than one between them, with Mark Hickey, from frees, landing the bulk of Kilbrittain’s tally with Ronan Walsh doing likewise for Tracton.
When Walsh struck his 11th in the 60th minute, his side led by one, now in added cardiac time.
In the 64th minute, Kilbrittain won a free about 55 metres out. Of course, it was questioned and as they were at it, they were seeking explanations for the amount of added time.
It still had to be scored, with the responsibility resting on Cashman’s shoulders. As he has done so many times, he nailed it. They were level for 14th time.
Extra-time is now such an integral part of the finishing process, gone are the days, of match and team officials deciding that they had enough for one day.
Twenty seconds in, Hickey pointed his 11th free; 40 seconds later Daniel Flaherty hit his third. Level again.
Next up Cashman for his fourth and when Declan Harrington was fouled in the second minute of added time, Hickey did the needful and it was the first time in almost an hour that there was more than one point between them; drama at its best.
We go again for the second period of extra-time. From the throw-in, Flaherty makes it a one-point contest.
Then, within a two-minute period, Conor Moloney and Sam Shorten score Kilbrittain’s first scores from play since the 26th minute of the opening half. Surely now, with three between them, the bookies can think about paying out.
With five minutes remaining Mark Byrne brings it back to two, followed by another free from distance, Walsh bringing his tally to 12 and the margin to one.
After hitting that free, Walsh, at 35 and after 80-plus minutes of action, had the appearance of a man who had completed a marathon in Sahara Desert temperatures. He owed the team and his people no more.
A minute later Sam Shorten, with his second in a three-minute period, had the Kilbrittain following experiencing highs of a new-found variety. Two to the good, two from the end.
Tracton were awarded a free, a long-distance one. David Byrne struck it and as it was about to land, a defender who was in close proximity to the marathon man Walsh broke it out.
Walsh grabbed it on his so-called weaker side (it is a hurler’s condition!), there was no time for switching, the weaker side had to do the striking; it hit the net.
As a matter of some interest, the striker of the free, Byrne, is a nephew of the finisher Walsh.
The large following from the Minane Bridge area, whose belief had been so well tested, were on a mountain on cloud nine.
They now led by one, but mna mór wasn’t for singing yet.
From the puck-out, Colm Sheehan points his second, sides level, time for penalties in Ballinspittle or so we thought.
Keith Webb sailed one over, and less than a minute remaining, John Good got in on the act. Wall posted and it’s down to one again. From the puck-out, there was no more on the clock, it too had given its all.
An awesome contest was at an end and for the supporting armies, it was a case of supreme elation and sheer heartbreak coexisting.
The people from the west heading home harbouring the cruelty that can attach to sport but in time, they will realise that their representatives left it all on the Ballinspittle arena.
For the victors, they were in no hurry to depart, endings and victories like this have been a little scarce of late.
On Saturday, October 15 at 5pm they will play Ballygiblin in a county final.
It will present another massive challenge, but regardless of the result, that autumnal goal in Ballinspittle is now ready for entry into the next edition of the club’s history.
It has been a while since a nephew/uncle sporting combination has had such value attached.
Thanks to all participants for a pleasant and memorable experience.