A CHANGE IN form saw Mullinavat produce the goods when it mattered and move into the quarter-finals of the intermediate hurling championship.
Tipped for league honours, some poor late displays saw the ’Vat slip from the top of the table to third. They arrested that slide in Sunday’s meeting with Young Irelands (Gowran) at Ballyhale, giving a polished first half performance that pointed them towards victory.
Playing with the wind, the ’Vat also got a major slice of luck in the early minutes of Sunday’s noon clash.
The game was just six minutes old when a dropping Joe Gahan free wriggled from the grasp of ’Irelands goalkeeper Martin Carey. Ger Malone saw the chance and took it, pulling first time to tuck home the loose ball.
That strike, although not a hammer blow, summed up the Gowran’s first half. They spent much of it pegged deep in their own half, as the breeze kept tempting Mullinavat to pepper the ball in at the opposing posts.
Although Frankie Farrell converted two pointed frees, one either side of the goal, Mullinavat quickly sped off on a scoring run.
Conor Conway sent them on their way with a point from play before Tony Duggan landed the first of his three impressive scores from long range.
The ’Vat kept moving the ball around well, with Paudie Gahan teeing up Michael Murphy for a score. Although Conway and Farrell traded frees the gap continued to grow, as Conway (free) and Ger Malone made it a seven-point game by the 26th minute.
The one-way traffic continued to flow, as Duggan intercepted a ball close to midfield and fired it over the scoreboard end crossbar. The leaders continued to link up well across all sectors, Joe Gahan and Michael Murphy linking up well to set up Paudie Gahan for a fine point from out on the right.
Duggan rounded off his first half with another long-range score, this time gathering Conway’s quick line-ball and splitting the posts. That made it a ten-point game, but it could have been more.
Attacking right until the whistle, the Vat almost grabbed a second goal in injury-time when Martin Carey batted Dinny Butler’s teasing ball away from danger. The sliotar flew straight into Conway’s grasp, who wriggled past Carey and shot for goal, but full-back Willie Bolger made a fine stop, diving to his left to save the day.
Young Irelands did finish the first half scoring, as Farrell notched up his – and his side’s – fourth point via another free, but they still had plenty of work left to do (1-10 to 0-4).
The Gowran men needed a good start to the second half – and boy, did they get it. Paul Holden picked off the opening point – their first from play – after 33 minutes before, seconds later, David Carter raced on to a long ball out of defence and flicked it one-handed past James Culleton.
The gap was down to five points now (1-10 to 1-5), but just when the ’Vat looked in trouble they regained their scoring form. Conor Conway grabbed a free to which Willie O’Dwyer added one from play, showing great skill to pick off Paudie Gahan’s soaring line ball and turn it into a point.
Those points helped alleviate the pressure on Mullinavat. From there to the finish they hit back whenever Irelands broke through and grabbed a score, keeping enough distance in the game.
To their credit, Young Irelands never gave in. They rang the changes, introducing D.J. Carey and Charlie Carter to the fray, but with a dominant half-back line of Walter Burke, Tony Duggan and Michael Malone in top form the winners maintained their grip on the game until the final whistle. SCORERS: Mullinavat – Conor Conway (0-6, 0-5 frees); Ger Malone (1-2); Tony Duggan (0-3); Willie O’Dwyer, Michael Murphy (0-2 each); Paudie Gahan (0-1). Young Irelands – Frankie Farrell (0-5, frees); David Carter (1-0); Paul Kehoe (0-1, free); Michael Walsh, J.J. Lennon, Paul Holden, Dick Carroll (0-1 each).
Mullinavat – J. Culleton, I. Duggan, S. Farrell, Joe Fennelly, M. Malone, W. Burke, T. Duggan, P. Gahan, Jamie Fennelly, J. Gahan, D. Butler, M. Murphy, C. Conway, W. O’Dwyer, G. Malone. Subs: N. Anthony for J. Gahan, 56 mins; D. Aylward for Murphy, 60 mins.
Young Irelands – M. Carey, N. Walsh, W. Bolger, C. Carroll, J. Dunphy, M. Walsh, J.J. Lennon, F. Farrell, P. Holden, P. Holden, J. Foley, D. Carroll, D. Carter, J. Morris, P. Kehoe. Subs: D.J. Carey for Foley, 40 mins; C. Nolan for Holden, 44 mins; C. Carter for Morris, 55 mins; T. Drennan for Farrell, 57 mins.
Referee – D. Connolly (Mooncoin).