Two very different sides of the coin were on show as Mullinavat marched their way into the intermediate hurling league final.
Brimming with confidence the ’Vat, already assured of their place in the chase for silverware, were given a boost as they maintained their 100% record with a win over a Graigue-Ballycallan side who were left feeling bluer than the colour of their jerseys.
Little has gone right for Graigue in the last 12 months. Their relegation from the senior ranks has been followed by a dismal showing in this year’s league, as one win (and one draw) from their five games means they will play the first round of the intermediate championship this year - lose that and they could be in danger of a drop into the junior ranks.
Mullinavat took their league tally to 10 points on a sunny Friday evening in Piltown, but had to step up out of third gear to seal the win.
The decisive moment came as the game moved into the final quarter, when John Walsh put the tie beyond Graigue.
Racing on to a breaking ball, the corner-forward dashed left on a diagonal run towards the scoreboard corner of the ground, pausing only to cut a low shot back to the right and beyond the reach of netminder P.J. Trant.
There was little to write home about in the early stages as the two sides shook off the cobwebs. Graigue held a slender lead after the opening quarter (0-2 to 0-1, thanks to the industrious Billy Ryan and a Niall Millea free) but when half-time rolled around they found themselves two points down.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying; Ballycallan enjoyed plenty of possession and had scoring chances, but a steady number of wides (they hit five in the first half, 12 over the hour) hurt their cause.
It didn’t help either that Graigue conceded too many frees, often in dangerous places. Simon Aylward and John Walsh profited most from these, converting a brace apiece from various ranges.
Captain Willie O’Dwyer grabbed another from play, dashing out to collect a Darren Kenneally pass before nipping back in to pop it over the bar. Paddy Raftice continued the run with a fine score, getting on the end of some excellent ball-work from Joe Gahan and then fending off his marker before splitting the road end posts.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic - hard work from Billy Ryan and Niall Millea made sure of that - but while Graigue did get the last score of the half through Adrian Bourke it came after eight barren minutes. They were only two behind, but it felt like more (0-7 to 0-5).
The game brightened up for Ballycallan on the restart, as two Adrian Bourke frees had them level within a matter of minutes.
However, those scores carried a heavy price; captain Millea was injured for one of the frees, shipping a leg injury which saw him leave the fray a few minutes later after failing to run the injury off.
The third quarter was by far the best period of the game for Ballycallan, but they couldn’t make the pressure count. An impervious Mullinavat half-back line, superbly marshalled by Pauric Gahan, saw to that as time and again they caught ball and carried it back out the field.
Graigue couldn’t get the score they needed to take the lead, and once Mullinavat upped the tempo they took off.
In a sweeping move Willie O’Dwyer pushed his side two points clear again in the 39th minute, the former county man adding the finishing touch to a sweeping move that started with full-back Thomas Aylward’s clearance and was driven forward through the combined efforts of Brian Phelan, Dinny Butler and Liam Fennelly.
Then, when Walsh netted the only goal of the game, Ballycallan wilted. The final quarter saw Graigue post just two more points, both from Eddie Brennan.
As for the ’Vat, they stretched the winning margin to eight, Walsh (3) and Aylward (two frees) doing all the damage.
SCORERS: Mullinavat - John Walsh (1-6, 0-4 frees); Simon Aylward (0-4, frees); Willie O’Dwyer (0-3); Paddy Raftice (0-1); Thomas Aylward (0-1, free). Graigue-Ballycallan - Adrian Bourke (0-3); Billy Ryan, Eddie Brennan (0-2 each); Niall Millea (0-2, 0-1 free); John Purcell (0-1).
Mullinavat - James Culleton, Joe Fennelly, Thomas Aylward, Seamus Farrell, Brian Phelan, Pauric Gahan, Robbie Malone, Simon Aylward, Darren Kenneally, Joe Gahan, Dinny Butler, Paddy Raftice, Liam Fennelly, Willie O’Dwyer, John Walsh. Subs: Adam Mansfield for L. Fennelly, 55 mins; Mikie Jones for Kenneally, 59 mins.
Graigue-Ballycallan - P.J. Trant, Darragh Egan, Bob Murphy, Ger Teehan, Dara Walton, James Ryall, Jimmy Murphy, Eddie Brennan, Adrian Bourke, James Smith, Niall Millea, Gearoid Cleere, Willie O’Connor, Jason Dermody, Billy Ryan. Subs: John Purcell for Smith, 31 mins; Vinny Teehan for Millea (inj), 40 mins; Eoin Corcoran for Dermody, 47 mins; Conor Murphy for Bourke, 51 mins; Thomas Ryan for Cleere, 54 mins.
Referee - Jim Fitzgerald (Piltown)