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Sixmilebridge players celebrate with the cup following their U-15A Hurling final win over Ballyea at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly

Defiant Keogh leaves Sixmilebridge aglow

Under 15A Hurling Championship Final

Sixmilebridge 2-11 Ballyea 1-8

A powerful finish ensured that Sixmilebridge maintained their current superiority to garner the Under 15A Hurling honours in Cusack Park on Thursday evening, writes Eoin Brennan.

The defending Under 14A champions were full value for their latest victory too, having led for the final three-quarters of the tie before finally seeing off a resilient Ballyea with a clinching last gasp goal through substitute Conor Gleeson.

Amidst incessant rain, a low-scoring final duel sparked into life entering the final minutes when a Sixmilebridge counter-attack yielded the opening goal as Dylan McInerney centred to Stephen Gavin to shake off the defensive cover and fire to the net at 1-10 to 0-8.

True to form, Ballyea refused to panic but a potential lifeline would be dashed four minutes later when a Dara Kennedy penalty, earned by his midfield partner Evan Cleary, was superbly tipped away by goalkeeper Conor Keogh at his right hand post.

A Donal O’Leary single at the other end put what seemed a match-winning point margin between the sides but there would be one last rally from Ballyea as an excellent Cleary strike was again repelled by Keogh, only for Kennedy to be on hand to flick the rebound to the net at 1-11 to 1-8.

It was game on once more but despite a frantic final few minutes, the goal that Ballyea craved actually went Sixmilebridge’s way as Gleeson emerged from a huddle to strike a worthy winner to the right corner of the net.

It was tough on Ballyea, who following reverses in the Under 13A equivalent two years ago and again in this year’s Féile decider, were made to suffer a third major final defeat.

Captain Dara Kennedy led by example with 1-4, ably assisted by TJ Chambers, Evan Cleary, and battling goalkeeper Sean O’Malley who excelled despite being clearly hampered by a leg injury throughout the second period.

Kennedy was the most impressive player on show but it was Sixmilebridge who possessed the superior balance throughout their side with the defiant Keogh matched by excellent displays for chief marksman Rory Chaplin and vice-captain Conor Peacock along with eye-catching displays from Jack O’Halloran, Zak Phelan and Donal O’Leary

Chaplin led the way early on but a misery Sixmilebridge rearguard’s best trait was their consistency of timely hooks and blocks as first they smothered an Eoin O’Connor goal threat before Peacock cleared off the line from a Kris O’Callaghan effort.

Three points in a row through Chaplin (2) and Donal O’Leary would nudge the ‘Bridge into a lead that they would never relinquish thereafter entering the second quarter despite another glorious goal chance for Ballyea in the 28th minute when a Kennedy delivery broke perfectly for Eoin O’Connort to race through, only to see a strong shot somehow kept out and cleared by the cat-like Keogh.

It inspired a 0-7 to 0-5 half-time advantage while three of the first four points of the new half through Cathal Ryan, Zak Phelan and Rory Chaplin established a 0-10 to 0-6 cushion by the two-thirds mark.

Inevitably, it was Dara Kennedy that led the Ballyea backlash from the puck-out while Thomas O’Dea would lower the arrears to two entering the final quarter.

However, Gavin’s goal would prove a timely shot-in-the-arm before Gleeson’s late strike capped off a memorable night for Sixmilebridge who captured their second Under 15A triumph in there years.

Sixmilebridge: Conor Keogh; Conor Peacock, Dylan Keogh, Ross Kearney; Cuan Mac Giolla Cearra, Jack O’Halloran, Conor Fitzpatrick; Zak Phelan, Luke Deegan; Dylan McInerney, Cathal Ryan, Jack McNamara; Donal O’Leary, Rory Chaplin, Stephen Gavin

Subs: Cian McInerney for McNamara (HT), Conor Gleeson for D. McInerney (52), Dougie Brew for O’Leary (63)

Scorers: Rory Chaplin (0-5, 4f); Stephen Gavin (1-1); Conor Gleeson (1-0); Zak Phelan, Donal O’Leary (0-2 each); Cathal Ryan (0-1)

Ballyea: Sean O’Malley; Cian Turner, TJ Chambers, Oisin Vaughan; Thomas Hehir, Cian McAllister, Marc Kennedy; Dara Kennedy, Evan Cleary; Bill Egan, Eoin O’Connor, Sean O’Sullivan; Liam Casey, Thomas O’Dea, Kris O’Callaghan

Sub: Cillian Moylan for O’Callaghan (52)

Scorers: Dara Kennedy (1-4, 1f); Thomas O’Dea (0-2); Kris O’Callaghan, Liam Casey (0-1 each)

Referee: Niall Malone (Éire Óg)

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