The Ballysaggart panel who defeated Ballygunner in their J.J. Kavanagh & Sons Co. IHC Final. On Sunday they bid to add a Munster crown to that title. Photo: Maurice Hennebry.
Sunday Next – Fraher Field 1.30 p.m. AIB Munster Club I.H.C. Final Ballysaggart V Fr. O’Neills (Cork)
Six years on from becoming the first Waterford side to win a Junior Hurling Munster title Ballysaggart will be back in a provincial decider on Sunday next when they seek to emulate next door neighbours Lismore by capturing the Munster Intermediate title at the expense of Cork champions Fr. O’Neills. Should Ballysaggart succeed in defying the odds they would become the first Waterford side to win Munster Club titles in Junior and Intermediate Hurling grades, a feat achieved only last year for the first time by Cork Intermediate champions Charleville when they followed up their Munster Junior success in 2011 with victory over Feakle of Clare.
By the same token Ballysaggart’s opponents on Sunday Fr. O’Neills will be seeking to become the second Cork side to achieve the notable double having won the Munster and All Ireland Junior titles in 2005.
CORK TEAMS’ GREAT RECORD
A glance at the roll of honour in this competition since it was introduced in 2003 gives some idea of the magnitude of the task facing Ballysaggart on Sunday. With Bride Rovers winning the inaugural championship Cork clubs have won the title on seven occasions, Clare on three with Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford taking two each the Waterford titles coming through Cappoquin in 2013 and Lismore in 2016. Fr. O’Neills will be seeking to make it three in a row for Cork sides with Charleville’s win last year having followed on Kanturk’s Munster and All Ireland success of the previous year.
That this final will be played in Fraher Field is a boost for Ballysaggart. Apparently both clubs agreed to toss between Fraher Field and Mallow and that the game is being played in Fraher Field will not be much of an imposition on the Cork champions where travel is concerned as they are situated between Youghal and Garryvoe in East Cork. That Fr. O’Neills won the Premier Intermediate Championship in Cork this year was no surprise. It comes one year after the club won the Cork Premier U-21 championship for the first time, defeating highly rated neighbours Midleton in the final having beaten other big name senior clubs such as Glen Rovers, Sarsfields and Blackrock along the way.
With East Cork divisional side Imokilly comfortably retaining the Cork senior title the standard of hurling in the division is very high and Fr. O’Neills made a telling contribution to that senior win with outstanding performances from former U-21 stars Ger Mellerick in defence and Declan Dalton in attack with Mark O’Keeffe. Dalton will be remembered as the player who knocked Waterford out of the U-21 championship in Walsh Park in 2017 when he scored the goal from that very controversial penalty award. Dalton is his side’s top scorer and probably one of the top free takers in the game, something the Ballysaggart defence will have to be very mindful of. He is not, of course, the only scoring threat in the Fr. O’Neills attack for Billy Dunne, who captained the side to last year’s U- 21 success has shown himself to be a prolific goal scorer throughout the Cork and Munster campaigns while a strong midfield pairing of Joe Mellerick and Kevin O’Sullivan must also be reckoned with.
The contribution of the Bennetts in bringing Ballysaggart to this stage cannot be overstated. If Declan Dalton’s free taking has played a major part for Fr. O’Neills so too has that of Stephen Bennett for Ballysaggart. In the latter’s case his free taking has been matched by his contribution from general play through a tremendous work rate. It is the same with Kieran Bennett in midfield and Shane Bennett whether it be in defence or attack. It can be taken as a given that Fr. O’Neills will be paying special attention to curbing the influence of the Bennetts thus leaving room for such as Christy Murphy, Darren Meagher, Ronan Walsh and Ken Cashel to make their presence felt. It is unlikey that Ballysaggart’s joint captain Steve Mangan will be fit enough to line out as a result of the nasty injury suffered against Sean Treacys.
Ballysaggart will be looking to Stephen Bennett at centre back to cut off supply to the lethal pairing of Dalton and Dunne up front for O’Neills while the Cork side will most likely deploy Ger Mellerick to keep tabs on Shane Bennett.
Ballysaggart have had two tough games against Causeway and Sean Treacy’s and while Fr. O’Neills had an easy passage against Clare side Broadford in their semi-final they were hard pressed to come away with a one point win, after extra time, over Limerick side Blackrock in their first round game. That result showed that they are a beatable side.
OUTSIDERS TAG WON’T BOTHER SAGGART
There is no doubt but that Ballysaggart are outsiders going into this game but that is the way they would want it. They have confounded the odds before and are capable of doing so again, Hopefully the Waterford support will come out in big numbers on Sunday for that could make the difference.
Regarding support it is a pity that with the Senior final in Pairc Ui Rinn on Sunday that the Munster Council did not show some degree of flexibility, if not common sense in switching the Intermediate final to Saturday. With Cork in easy reach of West Waterford many of the hurling followers in that region would be keen to take in both games just as many travelling to Cork in support of Ballygunner would have wanted to see the game in Dungarvan. Let us hope that both games will produce victories for the Waterford teams and so give us big games to look forward to early in the new year.