Nothing between well matched Carbery hurling finalists St. Mary’s and Ballinascarthy
Ballinascarthy will be bidding for their sixth title, while St. Mary’s will be bidding for their first on Sunday next in Clonakilty when the sides meet in the final of the RCM Tarmacadam junior A hurling championship.
Bal last won the title in 2019, while St. Mary’s contested their first in final in 33 years last season. What makes this final more intriguing is that the sides met in last season’s semi-final, when Bal were reigning champions and hot favourites, but were not only turned over by Mary’s but comprehensively beaten by eleven points.
Two early goals by Brian Everard were crucial on the day. Mary’s went on to lose the final to Clonakilty, the heroics of Mark White in goal for Clon preventing a first ever title win for the Ballineen/Enniskeane outfit.
While the Mary’s team is still almost identical to last year’s, the Bal team shows a number of changes in personnel.
‘Last season we didn’t seem to come too well out of Covid and we could have no complaints about our defeat by Mary’s,’ Ballinascarthy manager Joe Ryan told The Southern Star.
‘We were probably lucky to beat Kilbree and we probably thought we were better than we were because of it. Because of Covid we had bigger numbers to cope with as lads were staying at home and we decided to put in a team for the junior B championship as well. It has worked very well and a few fellas now playing junior A having come through the second team.’
‘We were very disappointed to lose last year’s final to Clonakilty, it really hurt us, St. Mary’s manager, Michael Dineen said.
‘The lads played very well but Mark White, the Clon goalkeeer, was outstanding on the day.
‘But, when you consider how far we have come in a few short years in hurling, we have to be pleased with our progress. Covid may be a disaster but it was the main factor in helping us as lads had to stay at home, couldn’t travel abroad and that gave us numbers.’
Ballinascarthy’s season began against St. Oliver Plunkett’s and what is usually a close contest between these neighbours became a comprehensive 3-18 to 1-8 victory for Bal.
‘We were nervous going into the game,’ said Ryan.
‘It was a local derby and one never knows in those games. We were poor enough in the first half but put in a great finish.’
In the quarter final, it was even more one-sided against Bandon’s second string when Bal ran up 4-27, only conceding 1-8.
‘We did take that game very seriously and put in some hard training for it. We were very conscious that Bandon would have some ex-seniors and they had beaten a fancied Newcestown in the first round.’
And so it was on to a semi-final meeting with a highly-rated Dohenys outfit, who had knocked out champions, Clonakilty. This was a real test of the Bal men’s credentials and they passed it with flying colours.
Bal had to withstand a lot of pressure in the closing stages before three points in injury time copper-fastened a 1-19 to 0-17 victory.
‘Dohenys were definitely going well and we were worried as we had a month off and in the meantime the footballers had suffered a very disappointing defeat against St. James,’ explained Ryan.
‘Both teams, football and hurling, had trained very well and we were worried about the football collapse. As expected, Dohenys really put it up to us and it was a really tough, physical battle. We were genuinely delighted to come through that test.’
St. Mary’s began their campaign with an ambition to go a step further than in 2020 and impressed in a tight first-round win over St. James.
‘We were lucky to get over the line that day, just did enough,’ said Dineen.
‘People said we were lucky to get to the final last year and the lads were determined that day to prove they are a good side and that took us over the line on the day.’
Championship favourites, Kilbree, showing great form in the league cup, were next up in the quarter final and what a game that was as the sides were level eight times.
A great finish saw Mary’s forge in front to win by 1-15 to 0-16. A Darren O’Donovan goal in the third quarter proved crucial.
‘Kilbree have been very good in recent years and we probably didn’t have a great record against them,’ said Dineen.
‘That was a tough game and all credit to the lads, they were very disciplined while Kilbree gave away a lot of frees.’
It was into the semi-final for the second year in a row and opponents were near-neighbours, Newcestown’s second string.
Mary’s had to face that game without their injured captain and ace scorer, Jason Collins, but in a rain storm in Ahiohill, inspired by the rampant Dylan Scannell and Niall Kelleher at midfield, they showed tremendous courage to win by 1-11 to 1-8.
‘It was a big challenge without Jason,’ admitted Dineen. ‘Jason is Jason, he’s the club chairman, he’s been a leader on and off the pitch. It was a great sign of the team the way they gelled together in that game and made up for Jason’s loss.’
So, who is going to bring back the Flyer Nyhan Cup on Sunday from Clonakilty?
Form is good on both sides but, whereas Mary’s have been really tested on three occasions this season, Bal faced only one real test.
Some would hold that Bal are more experienced and more toughened than Mary’s and, definitely their top players have a lot of top-class hurling under their belts in the last five years.
Three years ago, Mary’s were on the verge of being regraded to B by the Board but were given one more year to get their act together.
One major reason for their rapid ascent on the hurling field was that Covid prevented the usual summer exit of players overseas from the club and they have been drawing from a full panel of players.
One advantage that Bal do have on Sunday is that they have been knocked out of the football championship and can concentrate totally on this hurling game, while Mary’s are still involved in both championships.
Two years ago, Bal were in the same position, winning the hurling final but losing the football to St. James.
Bal will look to a high-scoring forward line, which has averaged 3-21 per game, and raised eight green flags in three games, while St. Mary’s will look to a defence that has conceded only a single goal and an average of 0-13 per game.
'Our main worry for Sunday is that St. Mary’s have great momentum at the moment, between hurling and football,’ said Ryan.
‘They were very good against Newcestown, even without Jason Collins, and they are a hard side to beat. They have a very good age profile, are good hurlers and we have no illusions how tough this is going to be. We were delighted to get over Dohenys but know we will have to play well above that form to bring home the title.’
‘We’re under no illusions about Ballinascarthy and we certainly won’t be walking into this thinking there’s a final there for us to take away,’ said an equally cautious Dineen.
‘The lads are fully focussed. They won the football quarter final last night and went through their recovery and rest routine afterwards. There are twelve players overlapping both teams. Jason wasn’t called to play football last night and that will definitely help his recovery, he should be okay to start.’