Sunday, 19th November 2017
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Stars weekend sees Gunner cross bridge

It was a superb weekend for Waterford hurling as five of our intercounty players were awarded All-stars and Senior hurling champions Ballygunner reached the Provincial Final with a courageous display against Sixmilebridge.

Walsh Park was the venue for the Munster Club Senior Hurling semi-final featuring Ballygunner and Clare kingpins Six milebridge. The men from the Banner were travelling high in confidence following a 1-20 to 1-14 win over Cloney/Quin in their domestic competition although they were forced to a replay following a 0-19 to 1-16 scoreline in the first fixture.

Sixmilebridge have been a force in Clare for a long number of years and this time it was no exception. With four senior panellists in their lineup there was little doubt but they would be a huge challenge for the Gunners, who incidentally had captured the Waterford News and Star Cup for 2017, their first four in a row. Some two thousand four hundred patrons came to the Keane's Road venue in anticipation of another "cracker" following the Ballygunner defeat of Tipperary champions Thurles Sarsfields, the previous week. Although there was a very slight breeze, the conditions and particularly the pitch so late in the year, were fine for hurling. Before the joust commenced both teams were forced to make changes with Ballygunner losing the services of Brian O'Sullivan following a shoulder injury the previous week. His place was taken by JJ Hutchinson while Sixmilebridge started Evan McInerney in place of the injured Paidi Fitzpatrick.

Referee Johnny Murphy got proceedings going with the visitors having the elements at their backs. A foul in the opening minute on former intercounty star Niall Gilligan, saw the excellent Jamie Shanahan split the posts and a minute later wing forward Cathal Malone was just off target. The pace was frantic as Seadna Morey found  Shane Golden moving into a dangerous position but the danger was averted by a superb stop from both Wayne Hutchinson and Ian Kenny. Time on the ball was of the essence as both teams strove to gain some sort of "upper hand". In the 4th minute a foul on star free taker Pauric Mahony saw the Ballygunner man convert from out wide on the left wing. Shane Golden had a point for the visitors in the 7th minute after a quick Gunners free was cut out and two minutes later that lead was up to two points when Conor Deasy pointed. Pauric Mahony brought the lead back to the minimum with a free but was just off target with another shot following a foul on Peter Hogan.

In the 12th minute Jamie Shanahan added a point after a foul on Niall Gilligan but almost from the puck out Seadna Morey picked the ball from the gound and Pauric Mahony delivered a point. Gilligan and Mahony added a point apiece Sixmilebridge ahead 0-5 to 0-4. Ballygunner breached the

Sixmilebridge defence in the 16th minute as Conor Power brilliantly evaded his marker. However keeper Derek Fahey was equal to the task and blocked the ball away for a 65 metre free which was just wide from Pauric Mahony. Wayne Hutchinson was yellow carded for a foul on Cathal Malone which saw Shanahan again add the point.

A superb point from Shane O'Sullivan was answered by a point from corner forward Alan Mulreavy to leave two between the sides 0-7 to 0-5. Pauric Mahony knocked over a free following a foul on Conor Power but again Jamie Shanahan replied in kind for the Banner men. With little quarter asked both freetakers Pauric Mahony and Jamie Shanahan were magnificent from placed balls. The Clare midfielder added another point in the 28th minute to leave four points between the sides 0-10 to 0-6 and when Cathal Malone and Niall Gilligan combined for the latter to point, we began to see some nerves jangle. Sixmilebridge ahead at the break 0-11 to 0-6.

Ballygunner bainisteoir Fergal Hartley must surely have laid it on the line for his charges during the fifteen minute interval as they came out with renewed vigour of purpose. Billy O'Keeffe had a point within thirty seconds of the restart. Alex Morey replied with a point for the Clare champions. However Ballygunner then reeled five unanswered points. David

O'Sullivan broke clear and shot across goal. The ball was collected by Billy O'Keeffe who pointed. A minute later a foul on Billy O'Keeffe was punished by Pauric Mahony 0-12 to 0-9.

With Wayne Hutchinson and Philip Mahony "shoring up" the defence Sixmilebridge were finding it difficult to get shooting positions. A superb run from Harley Barnes ended with JJ Hutchinson adding a point and when Paudie Mahony converted two more frees the sides were level 0-12 apiece. In the 40th minute newly crowned All-star Stephen O'Keeffe was called upon to keep his line intact as he produced a good save from Niall Gilligan which fell to Cathal Malone and the wing forward put his team back in front. A yellow card for Sixmilebridge corner back Barry Fitzpatrick for a foul on Conor Power gave Mahony the opportunity and the freetaker obliged. Teams level again 0-13 apiece.

JJ Hutchinson and Billy O'Keeffe combined for a point from the latter to see the Gunners back in front but a foul on Alex Morey saw Jamie Shanahan knock over his seventh and his side's leveller 0-14 each. This game was certainly going all the way to the wire. Brian Corry edged the Clare lads ahead but Pauric Mahony added a point to level. As both teams sought to grind out a win the respective managers made a number of substitutions to freshen up the teams. Pauric Mahony converted a free to edge his team ahead but within a minute Jamie Shanahan did likewise for Sixmilebridge. Four minutes left and Jamie Shanahan pointed a free.

Could this be the end of the Gunners dream for 2017? We wondered. With three minutes remaining the breakthrough for Ballygunner. A magnificent solo run from midfield by Shane O'Sullivan saw panic in the Sixmilebridge defence and JJ Hutchinson was on hand to smash the ball past Derek Fahy for a goal.

Cathal Malone was wide with a scoreable effort. Billy O'Keeffe had a Ballygunner point that saw three between the sides 1-17 to 0-17. JJ Hutchinson capped a magnificent game with a wonderful point from out wide on the wing. Deep in additional time Ballygunner ahead by four points 1-18 to 0-17. Surely they had their place signed, sealed and delivered in the final. There was however one final score and it was all too late for Sixmilebridge. Seadne Morey collected and raced through a packed Ballygunner defence to crash home. A point between the sides 1-18 to 1-17 as referee Johnny Murphy called time after what can only be described as a pulsating hour of hurling. These type of games may not be good for the heart but they are definitely doing wonders for Ballygunner who are growing from game to game.

The Gunners now march on to face Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh who defeated Blackrock from Cork on a scoreline 2-26 to 0-10 in the other semi final. This game will take place on November 19th inst.

FIVE ALL-STARS

Waterford hurling was justifiably rewarded for a terrific 2017 as they received five All-Strs on Friday night. Goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe was given the accolade in the number one position for an outstanding year between the posts. Noel Connors has time and again proven that he is at the top of the tree where corner backs are concerned and was receiving his third award 2010, 2015, and 2017. Team captain Kevin Moran can now display a second award having won in 2012. Jamie Barron was the recipient in 2016 and has now his second award. Michael "Brick" Walsh can now add a fourth award to his previous three in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Of course both Kevin Moran and Jamie Barron were shortlisted for player of the year which incidentally went to Galway forward Joe Canning. Congratulations to one and all on a personal and county level.

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