(originally posted on boards.ie)
Two “handy” goals early in the second half proved the difference as Ballysaggart deservedly became the first Waterford team to win the Munster Junior Hurling Club championship today. This was a high-quality game of hurling which was a credit to both clubs. The pitch at the superb Mallow GAA facility was in fairly good condition despite the preceding game of football. It was strange that they played the football game first, especially as football is more suited to being played under lights, which were on from the start of the hurling game.
There was a stiff wind blowing straight down the field which assisted Feenagh in the first half. However, it was Ballysaggart who made by far the better start, with Stephen Bennett opening their scoring with a pointed free followed by a superb goal from 20 metres. Bennett added two more neat points struck off his right side (for the benefit of those who think he is too one-sided for senior intercounty level) with his brother Shane weighing in with two further points.
Feenagh gradually worked their way back into the game, with their centre back Edward Murphy scoring three excellent long-range frees from his own half of the pitch. With Ballysaggart playing only five (and sometimes four) up front, we repeatedly saw unmarked Feenagh defenders picking up Ballysaggart clearances falling short into the wind and driving them back with interest. This pressure yielded a sequence of frees all of which the Feenagh freetaker converted.
Deep into added time, Stephen Bennett shot wide after the referee failed to whistle for an obvious jersey pull, and from the puckout Feenagh earned a converted free which amounted to a two-point turnaround which we feared might prove significant. Half-time: Ballysaggart 1-8 Feenagh 0-9.
Feenagh came out all business in the second half but were rocked back when conceding two rather soft goals within a few minutes of each other. The first came from a long ball in by Stephen Bennett which broke at the edge of the square, and despite the attentions of two defenders, Ballysaggart’s Ronan Walsh managed to get the ball into his hand and squeeze it past the keeper from an angle. Minutes later Shane Bennett ran onto a poor Feenagh clearance and powered forward to shoot for goal from 20 metres. The goalie should really have stopped a shot which wasn’t that strongly hit and came in at midriff height, but it passed through his diving body and into the net. This gave Ballysaggart a three-goal lead.
Feenagh were now shell-shocked and I thought Ballysaggart should have gone for the jugular, but they retreated into defence to deny Feenagh the goal which they knew they needed – always a bad idea in my view in a hurling game, but one which worked out on this occasion. At one stage in the second half, despite playing with the wind, Ballysaggart had no player inside the Feenagh 45 metre line. They had Stephen Bennett playing on the wing where he was rather marginalised when I thought he should have been located at full forward where he would have been more of a threat and would have required the attention of several Feenagh defenders. At the same time, Ballysaggart did create a number of good scoring chances in the second half but turned them into bad misses.
Instead, Feenagh owned midfield for much of the second half but long balls into the goal area were well defended with goalkeeper Matty Meagher dealing very capably with any ball landing in the goalmouth. Feenagh also tried running at the Ballysaggart defence but this proved equally unproductive. However, they did get the deficit down to four points, their best goal chance coming from a well-struck 30 metre free from their centre back which was deflected over the bar. Stephen Bennett closed out the game with two well-struck frees in the final minutes.
Apart from Stephen Bennett, I thought Ballysaggart’s best players were centre back Eugene O’Brien, left half back Cailean O’Gorman who had a really good second half, Shane Bennett at left half forward and right half forward Kenneth Cashel who came home from New Zealand for this game and turned in a really powerful first half before understandably running out of steam after the change of ends.
There was a great atmosphere at the game (official attendance 3,270), and the outpouring of joy and emotion from the Ballysaggart fans (who were there in force) at the final whistle showed what a wonderful addition to the GAA calendar these secondary club championships have become.
Ballysaggart: Matty Meagher; Bobby Ryan; Kieran Fennessy; Daniel Devine; Barry Murphy; Eugene O’Brien; Cailean O’Gorman; Christy Murphy (0-1); Kieran Bennett; Kenneth Cashel (0-1); Darren Meagher (0-1); Shane Bennett (1-2); Ronan Walsh (1-0); Stephen Bennett (1-7, 4 frees); Tom Bennett.