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Ballyea power down the home stretch for back to back titles

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Eoin Brennan reports from Cusack Park as Ballyea found an extra gear to retain their title against Éire Óg on a score of 2-14 to 1-16

Ballyea’s title-winning know-how proved essential once more when firing the last four points to pip neighbours Éire Óg to the Clare Senior Hurling Championship post in Cusack Park on Sunday afternoon.

Having successfully come from behind in their previous three Canon Hamilton triumphs since 2016, one shouldn’t have doubted the champions.

However, having hit three successive wides in the final ten minutes, Ballyea still trailed by three by the 58th minute but still refused to yield.

Points from substitute Martin O’Leary and a Tony Kelly ’65 were supassed by the decisive moment of the contest in injury-time when Kelly’s excellent hook stopped Shane O’Donnell from firing Éire Óg two clear, only for Paul Flanagan to pick up the break and unleash Cathal O’Connor to equalise from halfway.

With that, Niall Deasy earned and converted a 63rd minute free to nudge Ballyea in front for the first time in 30 minutes whereas last gasp Éire Óg frees drifted just wide of the target as their dreams of a first senior hurling crown in 32 years were agonisingly dashed.

Éire Óg should have closed out the game long before that late revival but crucially failed to score for the last 15 minutes of the contest.

It also took them eight minutes to open their account after Ballyea had got off to the perfect start with an Aaron Griffin fourth minute goal on the champions’ way to a 1-1 to 0-0 advantage.

Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly both missed glorious goal opportunities but despite Danny Russell guiding placed balls over to finally settle Éire Óg into their stride, back-to-back All Star Kelly did raid for Ballyea’s last three points of the half to ensure a half-time deadlock at 1-6 to 0-9.

History repeated itself on the restart as within two minutes of the throw-in, Ballyea had raided for their second goal, this time ruthlessly executed by Niall Deasy after catching and finishing Brandon O’Connell’s high delivery to the net.

It was a short-lived boost however as from the puck-out, Éire Óg would regain full parity albeit in fortuitious circumstances when Darren O’Brien’s effort a point dropped short and was spilled into the path of David Reidy to just get the ball over the line at 2-6 to 1-9.

The Townies’ luck appeared to be in when Gavin Cooney’s wayward shot was deemed to be a point by the officials for Éire Óg to move into the lead for the very first time by the 36th minute at 1-11 to 2-7.

A brace of Russell placed balls provided a three point cushion for a momentum-fuelled Éire Óg by the two-thirds mark, a gap that they would obstinately cling to until the final minutes at 1-16 to 2-10.

However, they failed to pick off the seemingly ailing champions’ who simply hung in there before finally sezing upon their opportunity with the last four points to prevail by the minimum for their fourth title in seven seasons.

Éire Óg, despite this seismic setback, can’t afford to wallow in self-pity either as with half their side set to line out next Sunday in the football equivalent, they will need to put this heartbreaking reverse behind them if they are to redress the balance.

Ballyea: Barry Coote; Brandon O’Connell, Paul Flanagan, Peter Casey; Gearoid O’Connell, Jack Browne, James Murphy; Stan Lineen, Morgan Garry; Niall Deasy, Pearse Lillis, Gary Brennan; Mossy Gavin, Tony Kelly, Aaron Griffin. Subs: Cillian Brennan for Garry (23, inj), Cathal O’Connor for Gavin (34), Martin O’Leary for Lillis (54)
Scorers: Niall Deasy (1-6, 6f); Tony Kelly (0-4, 1’65); Aaron Griffin (1-1); Cathal O’Connor (0-2); Martin O’Leary (0-1)

Éire Óg: Philly Walsh; Jarlath Collins, Aaron Fitzgerald, Niall McMahon; Ciaran Russell, Liam Corry, Oran Cahill; David Reidy, Cian O’Dea; David McNamara, Gavin Cooney, Mikey Moloney; Danny Russell, Shane O’Donnell, Darren O’Brien. Sub: Aidan McGrath for C. Russell (45-47, BS).
Scorers: Danny Russell (0-11, 9f, 1’65); David Reidy (1-0); Darren O’Brien (0-2); Oran Cahill, Mikey Moloney, Gavin Cooney (0-1 each)

Referee: Jarlath Donnellan (Wolfe Tones)

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