BRENDAN KENNEALLY REPORTS
BALLINORA deservedly won their seventh MJK Oils Mid Cork junior hurling championship title – and their first since 2016 – when they reversed last year’s final result and inflicted a four-point defeat on the defending champions Inniscarra.
Both sides had performed well in their respective semi-final victories and came into the final in confident mood. While Ballinora did eventually prevail, Inniscarra really made them battle hard for their victory.
A goal from Colin O’Leary just after the first water break had given Inniscarra a five-point advantage but significantly Ballinora had reduced this lead to a single point by half time, 1-4 to 0-6.
Three points in succession on the resumption gave Ballinora the lead for the first time. One anticipated that with the wind behind them they would now go on to a comfortable win but Inniscarra dug deep. They made Ballinora earn every score they got and with sharpshooter Ardal O’Connell in immaculate form from frees Inniscarra stayed in close touch until after the final water break and even then a goal at any stage could have given them victory.
Ballinora, however, were not lacking in courage or skill either, and in Alan O’Shea and their placed-ball expert Liam Lyons they kept putting scores on the board to keep Inniscarra at bay. In the end victory went to the slightly better team after a fine contest, well refereed by Liam Barry and played before a big attendance at the superb Ovens venue.
Ballinora had dominated the opening quarter of their recent semi-final win over Donoughmore, but this time the boot was on the other foot as it was Inniscarra who started well. Two early points from long-range Ardal O’Connell frees got them off to a promising start. In the seventh minute Colin O’Leary increased the ‘Scarra lead.
Ardal O’Connell scored a massive point for Inniscarra in the 11th minute and another three minutes elapsed before Ballinora, at last, got a score on the board, Alan O’Shea the scorer. Liam Lyons then pointed a free from 30 metres just before the water break, at which stage Inniscarra were not flattered to lead by 0-4 to 0-2.
Immediately after the restart, in the 16th minute, Inniscarra got a massive boost when Mark Nagle burst down the centre of the Ballinora defence and set up a close-range goal chance for Colin O’Leary which was well availed off, Inniscarra now led by 1-4 to 0-2. One minute later Ballinora goalkeeper Barry Crowley made a crucial save from another close-range blast from Dan O’Connell. As if to celebrate their let-off, Ballinora were to add four points to their tally before half time, holding Inniscarra scoreless in the same period.
Alan O’Shea, a top performer all through for Ballinora, had a point in the 22nd minute, Darragh Holmes finished off a strong run down the wing with a smashing point, Alan O’Shea sent a powerful stroke whizzing just over the crossbar in the 26th minute and James Keohane finished the first-half scoring with a fine effort from 40 metres, which left Ballinora only a point adrift at half time.
Ballinora were in a good position at this stage, having broken the early dominance of their opponents with strong defending by Shane Kingston and Patrick Cronin, were only a point in arrears and with the wind to assist them in the second half.
Ballinora could hardly have hoped for a better start on the resumption as Liam Lyons had them level within two minutes, Conor Quirke put them in front for the first time a minute later and Alan O’Shea doubled their advantage with a fine point from 40 metres out in the 35th minute.
But the reigning champions were not conceding their crown without a battle and closed down the Ballinora attack with superb tackling and blocking. Ardal O’Connell hit over a point to which Liam Lyons replied from a free. Another point from O’Connell in the 40th minute again left only a point between the teams, but back came Ballinora with a point from a Liam Lyons 65 and a second point from wing forward Conor Quirke.
Just before the second water break, Ardal O’Connell struck a marvellous point from a free on his own 65 line and into the strong wind, giving notice that Inniscarra were not going to fade away here with only two points separating the sides, 0-12 to 1-7.
In a crucial two-minute spell starting in the 50th minute Ballinora finally managed to create more daylight between themselves and the then champions when Liam Lyons pointed his second 65, Alan O’Shea scored after the persistence of Conor Quirke and James Keohane had won him the chance, and sub Tommy Burns sent over gloriously from the right wing to make it now 0-15 to 1-7.
Still, Inniscarra would not yield. Two points from Ardal O’Connell frees had the gap down to three points. When Liam Lyons scored from a Ballinora free to ease the pressure, Ardal O’Connell did likewise for ‘Scarra to again leave only three points between the teams with a many minutes left.
Ballinora then lost a great chance of a point in fruitless pursuit of a goal but deep in time added-on James Keohane made victory secure for Ballinora, much to the delight of their large enthusiastic support.
Scorers – Ballinora: L Lyons 0-6 (4f, 2 65); A O’Shea 0-5; J Keohane, C Quirke 0-2 each; D Holmes, T Burns 0-1 each. Inniscarra: A O’Connell 0-9 (9f); C O’Leary 1-1.
Ballinora: Barry Crowley; Kevin O’Regan, Patrick Cronin, James Lordan; Mike Lordan, Shane Kingston, Colin O’Flynn; Brian Murphy, Neil Lordan; Conor Quirke, Darragh Holmes, Liam Lyons; James Keohane, Alan O’Shea, Kevin Murphy. Sub: Tommy Burns for B Murphy (40).
Inniscarra: Dave Óg Coleman; Brian Gould, Kevin Burke, James Buckley; John O’Callaghan, David O’Connell, Donal O’Callaghan; Liam Buckley, Sean Quinlivan; Mark Linehan, Mark Nagle, Colin O’Leary; Ardal O’Connell, Dan O’Connell, John Casey. Subs: Jerry Roche for M Linehan (37), Aidan O’Mahony for S Quinlivan (44).
Referee: Liam Barry (Ballincollig).