AIB Munster Club SHC semi-final
Ballyea 1-12 St Finbarr’s 0-14
By Eoin Brennan at Cusack Park
It took all of Ballyea’s recent Munster experience to finally shake off 14 man St Finbarr’s in what was a tense seesaw semi-final showdown.
Having soared to historic provincial success in their breakthrough year of 2016, this may have been Ballyea’s first Munster victory since, despite being their third attempt, but crucially they remained composed in a frantic finish to prevail by the minimum.
In front of a 1,891 crowd, there was never more than two points between the sides at any stage but there were defining moments, no more so that in the first quarter when the wind-assisted Barrs suffered a double whammy in the space of a minute.
First former Clare senior football captain Gary Brennan was permitted to drive through the heart of their defence to score the only goal of the hour in the eighth minute at 1-1 to 0-2 before key player Conor Cahalane was red-carded in the next passage of play following an off-the-ball altercation with marker Jack Browne.
Such a double hammerblow would have detrimental to most sides but the Barrs, mainly through the outstanding marksmanship of Ben Cunningham, kept on Ballyea’s coat-tails throughout.
The home side did manage to keep their noses in front, helped by a brace of Mossy Gavin points, to edge 1-5 to 0-7 in front by the break. However, despite welcoming the conditions for the new half, the back-to-back Clare champions were finally reeled in by the two-thirds mark.
Inevitably it was 19 year old Ben Cunningham, son of manager Ger, that led the backlash as his three point unanswered rally handed the Cork champions the lead for the first time in 35 minutes at 0-10 to 1-6.
That alteration in narrative sparked Clare’s four-time All-Star Tony Kelly into life with two superb strikes from the left wing in what would subsequently become a blow-for-blow duel with Cunningham. Indeed, the sides would be level on five occasions in the final 20 minutes before Ballyea defender Brandon O’Connell popped up for the winning point from halfway in the 62nd minute.
The Barrs did manufacture one final chance at forcing extra-time when earning a ’65, but Cunningham’s 66th minute strike just drifted agonisingly wide of the right post to ensure that a relieved Ballyea inched through to the Munster decider in a fortnight’s time.
Scorers for Ballyea: Tony Kelly 0-5 (1f, 2’65s), Mossy Gavin 0-3, Gary Brennan 1-0, Niall Deasy 1f, Gearoid O’Connell, Aaron Griffin, Brandon O’Connell 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Finbarr’s:Ben Cunningham 0-9 (5fs), Ben O’Connor, Brian Hayes 0-2 each, Ethan Twomey 0-1.
*Ballyea: *Barry Coote; Paul Flanagan, Peter Casey, Brandon O’Connell; Gearoid O’Connell, Jack Browne, James Murphy; Stan Lineen, Gary Brennan; Niall Deasy, Pearse Lillis, Cathal O’Connor; Mossy Gavin, Tony Kelly, Aaron Griffin
*Subs: *Cillian Brennan for Lineen (48), Morgan Garry for O’Connor (53) Martin O’Leary for Gavin (55).
*St Finbarr’s: *Shane Hurley; Cian Walsh, Jamie Burns, Eoin Keane; Glenn O’Connor, Damien Cahalane, Billy Hennessy; Ben O’Connor, Ethan Twomey; Padraig Buggy, Ben Cunningham, Conor Cahalane; William Buckley, Brian Hayes, Jack Cahalane
*Subs: *Sam Cunningham for Buckley (45), Ciaran Doolan for G. O’Connor (56), Eoghan Finn for J. Cahalane (60).
*Referee: *Michael Kennedy (Tipperary).