Despite the huge excitement at reaching an All-Ireland final, perhaps some St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) supporters left McDonagh Park, Nenagh on Sunday a little concerned that their side had not delivered a more comprehensive result against Ballygar, Galway in the junior club hurling semi-final.
Apart from the closing 20 minutes of the first half, the performance from the Kilkenny champions was not up to its usual standard. One could sense nervousness in the closing stages from the players and from the team mentors as they had to survive a couple of scary moments.
This, though, was a semi-final and such games are all about winning. The performance is secondary. Saturday, February 11 under the Croke Park lights is the time the big performance is required.
The McDonagh Park pitch is a demanding surface which did not suit the fleet-footed Ballyragget team. They will surely relish playing on the pristine surface in Croker.
After a hesitant start Ballyragget controlled the first half and a 0-11 to 0-3 interval lead hardly reflected their dominance. Ballygar were unable to cope with the superior hurling skill of the Ballyragget players and it was hard to see anything other than a big win for the Leinster champions.
For the opening 15 minutes of the second half Ballyragget still held the upper hand, but things got very uncomfortable for the Kilkenny side when the challengers scored a goal in the 45th minute.
That score saw the Galway side display greater effort all over the field and probably left them wondering at the finish why it took the team so long to get into the game. Their improved efforts might well have yielded another goal as they laid siege on the Ballyragget goal.
The winners concerns towards the finish were evident with the introduction of Geoff Morrissey, who was unable to start the game due to injury. In the end the better team won.
The big lesson
Ballyragget’s hurling was of a higher order than their opponents and the difference in class told at the finish. The one lesson Ballyragget need to learn from the game is that every player must deliver a far more focused and committed performance in Croke Park.
Too many players were off-colour on Sunday.
As expected, Cork’s Charleville comprehensively defeated the British representatives Fullen Gaels in the other semi-final. We now have yet another Cork/Kilkenny junior club All-Ireland final.
This will be a real test for Ballyragget. The challenge over the next three weeks will be to get all the injured players back and to get really focused for what will be the club’s greatest challenge.