Ballyea (Clare) 1-12
St Finbarr’s 0-14
The strains of “Allez les bleus,” the St Finbarr’s battle chant, reverberated around Cusack Park at the end as the large travelling support paid tribute to the efforts of their heroes, who gave every bit of themselves.
Unfortunately, having played with 14 for most of the game, the Togher side’s first experience of the AIB Munster Club SHC in 29 years ended with a narrow defeat as Brandon O’Connell’s late point won it for Ballyea. Ben Cunningham, superb throughout as he scored nine points for the Barrs, had a late 65 – disputed by Ballyea – to send the game to extra time but sadly it drifted just wide of the posts.
The Barrs certainly lost no caste in defeat and they can reflect on a year filled with highs, having restored themselves back to the top in Cork. In a game that could have gone either way, a late surge from Tony Kelly was on of the key factors in Ballyea winning through to the final.
With the wind picking up in the opening stages, a pair of Ben Cuningham points gave the Barrs an early lead. However, after Niall Deasy opened the Ballyea account with a free, they hit the front with a Gary Brennan goal.
After link-up play from Cathal O’Connor and Pearse Lillis, the Clare footballer still had a lot to do as he received possession 30 yards from goal but his driving run wasn’t halted and a close-range finish made it 1-1 to 0-2.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, the Barrs suffered another blow as Conor Cahalane was sent off for an incident involving Ballyea centre-back Jack Browne. Referee Michael Kennedy made his decision based on the advice of one of his linesmen.
They could have wilted after that, but the Barrs gave as good as they got for the rest of the half. Jamie Burns was given the task of trying to curb Ballyea’s key man Tony Kelly, who began the game at full-forward before drifting out. Burns stayed close to him though and limited his impact for much of the opening half.
At midfield, Ethan Twomey and Ben O’Connor combined smoothly, as they had done all year. A point from Twomey on 20 minutes left it 1-3 to 0-5 and then, after Mossy Gavin slung over a good Ballyea point from the right, O’Connor got on the scoresheet following a good pass from his partner.
Late in the half, Kelly tried a long delivery to where Aaron Griffin was waiting inside but Cian Walsh got in a vital touch to prevent a goalscoring opportunity developing. While wing-back Gearóid O’Connell did make it a two-point game again, 1-5 to 0-6, in injury time, Twomey’s crossfield ball for O’Connell allowed to him to get his second and leave the minimum in it half-time.
Another good Mossy Gavin score extended the Ballyea lead to two on the resumption but a pair of Ben Cunningham points, his fifth and sixth, had the Barrs level again by the 40th minute. Then, on 43, Damien Cahalane brought the ball out of defence to send a pass up the middle to Cunningham, who well to extricate himself from a group of defenders for firing over for the lead score.
Back Ballyea came as Kelly landed a huge score and Aaron Graffin landed his first of the game, making it 1-8 to 0-10 on the three-quarter mark. In response, Twomey’s pass for Cunningham allowed him to bring his tally to eight points and level. Moments later, he had half a sight of goal after Jack Cahalane picked him out but the shot was not sufficiently powerful to really trouble Barry Coote in the Ballyea goal.
While Brian Hayes did put the Barrs in front in the wake of that, three in a row from Kelly – one each from play, a free and a 65 – left Ballyea 1-11 to 0-12 in front with five minutes left.
After Cunningham’s ninth, Ballyea wasted chances to solidify their lead and the first of three allotted minutes of injury time had begun when Hayes levelled. Unfortunately for the Barrs, Brandon O’Connell out Ballyea back in front and that proved to be the winner.
Scorers for Ballyea: T Kelly 0-5 (0-2 65, 0-1f), M Gavin 0-3, G Brennan 1-0, G O’Connell, N Deasy (f), A Griffin, B O’Connell 0-1 each.
St Finbarr’s: B Cunningham 0-9 (0-5f), B O’Connor, B Hayes 0-2 each, E Twomey 0-1.
BALLYEA: B Coote; P Flanagan, P Casey, B O’Connell; G O’Connell, J Browne, J Murphy; S Lineen, G Brennan; C O’Connor, P Lillis, N Deasy; M Gavin, T Kelly, A Griffin.
Subs: C Brennan for Lineen (48), M Garry for O’Connor (54), M O’Leary for Gavin (56).
ST FINBARR’S: S Hurley; C Walsh, J Burns, E Keane; G O’Connor, D Cahalane, B Hennessy; B O’Connor, E Twomey; P Buggy, B Cunningham, C Cahalane; W Buckley, J Cahalane, B Hayes.
Subs: S Cunningham for Buckley(45), C Doolan for Hennessy (52-53, temporary), Doolan for G O’Connor (56), E Finn for J Cahalane (60).
Referee: M Kennedy (Tipperary).