Former Waterford defender Noel Connors believes Ballygunner’s strength in depth will prove decisive when they meet Ballyea in this Saturday’s Munster final.
The three time All-Star believes Ballyea will provide a stern examination of the reigning champions’ credentials, but he believes that Ballygunner possess a squad that is deep enough to withstand the best Robbie Hogan’s side can produce.
“They probably have a squad of 32, 33, 34 lads at a similar level. They have players who have starred at minor and U20 level and sometimes those guys aren’t making the panel. Fellas can come in if a guy like Dessie (Hutchinson) is being held.
“Probably not many people knew Harry Ruddle before his goal in the All-Ireland final but he was exceptional in the Club Championship all along and was probably the best player in the league down here.
“They have quality throughout and that’s why I think they can pull away near the end against Ballyea. I think it will be tight for 50 minutes before Ballygunner pull away in the last 10.”
Ballygunner are currently 48 games unbeaten in the Waterford Senior Hurling Championship. The Gunners have been victorious in 22 consecutive Championship outings since their Munster final defeat to Borris-Ileigh three years ago.
Despite the success, Connors states that he would be shocked if Ballygunner came in with any hint of complacency, even after Ballyea’s unconvincing semi final win over St. Finbarr’s.
“Ballyea have been successful in Clare recently, so they are a very good side. Ballygunner never take their eye off the ball. If they are one percent off then they know they could be bet.
“They will be under no illusions that they are in for a hard game. If you look back on their game a few years back it was a Philip Mahony goal that edged Ballygunner through so there is plenty of history there.”
Connors states that although Ballygunner are a formidable foe, he believes there is one area Ballyea can target in Thurles.
The former Waterford captain noticed that Na Piarsaigh were able to pierce holes in the Gunners’ defence when they delivered fast ball in to the flanks.
He admits that for Ballyea to do this, they need to control the terms of engagement in the middle third and engineer the space to provide quick, accurate ball so they can stretch Ballygunner.
“In the first half, Na Piarsaigh had a lot of success in the full forward line and when they ran at Ballygunner they caused a lot of problems. They were very successful at getting the ball in to the corners, getting the ball to hand and running at the corner backs.”
“During the second half they just couldn’t get the ball in there as Ballygunner stepped up after half time. They stopped the threat in the second half and Na Piarsaigh only got four second half points which showed how well they (Ballygunner) did.”
The Passage man states that although Ballyea would have been hurting from last year’s chastening defeat to this Saturday’s opponents, he believes that focusing on a past loss can prove an unnecessary distraction.
“To be honest I don’t think most teams at this level are obsessed with a game from the previous year. If they are they are probably taking their eye off the ball a small bit. You have to psychologically be prepared and I’m sure Ballyea will be very much focusing on their own strengths.
“Their players will be more concerned about what their role is rather than be concerned about Ballygunner or a defeat from last year.”