A DOZEN points without reply provided the ideal springboard as Graigue-Ballycallan opened their Northern junior A hurling account in fine style, winning 3-25 to 3-8.
Graigue were full value for the opening day win in the league-championship competition, putting in an impressive performance as they put St Lachtain’s (Freshford) to the sword on Sunday.
Although they conceded the opening score to St Lachtain’s, it didn’t take Graigue long to click into gear in a sun-bathed Tom Ryall Park.
Driven on by a solid half-back unit, the hosts simply drew a line across midfield for 15 minutes and never let Lachtain’s through.
Bob Murphy was a leading light for the winners, controlling the game from the half-back line. He had a hand in the scoring, driving plenty of possession forward - he also managed to split the posts with an impressive long range point, Graigue’s seventh, in the 13th minute.
By that stage they were well-versed in raising the white flag. With Willie O’Connor (0-2) causing trouble in the half-forward line, more scores from Brendan Hayes and Tommy Minogue helped cancel out Colin Corcoran’s early opener for the Saints (0-7 to 0-1).
The one-way scoring continued as a determined Graigue stretched their lead. The gap was into double figures by the 17th minute (0-11 to 0-1), with O’Connor (0-2) again leading the way.
Lachtain’s rang the changes, bringing full-forward Liam Hickey out to midfield and sending tall midfielder Corcoran into the firing line. The tactic worked, to a certain degree, as an excellent Corcoran catch ended with a foul on Martin Power in goal range.
Faced with such a deficit, Hickey had no option but to go for goal from the 17th minute free, but corner-back Mark Fitzpatrick flicked the sliotar to safety.
It was further proof, if needed, that it wasn’t going to be the Freshford side’s day. However, they refused to throw in the towel. Shane McGree ended a 20-minute barren spell with their second point of the afternoon, while Stephen Farrell also chipped in with three points from placed balls.
That left the deficit at nine points, but it could have been worse. They had Derek Deegan to thank for keeping the gap down, the goalkeeper showing good reflexes to keep Willie O’Connor’s low diagonal shot from rattling the net (0-14 to 0-5).
If the gap looked too big to bridge at half-time, it appeared massive within minutes of the restart. Points from Gearoid Cleere and Jason Dermody saw to that, before Shane Murphy sprinted through to sweep a low ball to the net (1-16 to 0-5).
Refusing to give in, Freshford were rewarded when Stephen Farrell charged down a Graigue clearance and surged through to hit the net. However, it failed to spark a monumental comeback, as the winners strode even further ahead. The half-forward line of O’Connor, Tommy Minogue and Shane Murphy showed a hunger for scores, helping to stretch the lead to 17 points (1-24 to 1-7) with less than 10 minutes to play.
It was in the closing stages that both sides hit goal form. Gearoid Cleere rifled a close range free to the net, punishing a needless foul on O’Connor.
That pushed the gap up to 20 points, but Lachtain’s made an instant reply. Shea Burke was the provider, finishing a good solo with a hand-pass that Liam Hickey turned into a goal. Stephen Farrell also grabbed a goal, this time after a neat one-two with Hickey on the edge of the square, but there was no catching the runaway winners.
SCORERS: Graigue-Ballycallan - Gearoid Cleere (1-4, 1-2 frees); Willie O’Connor (0-7); Shane Murphy (1-1); Tommy Minogue (0-4); Brendan Hayes (0-3); Jason Dermody (0-2); Ger Teehan (0-1, free); Bob Murphy, Justin Dermody, Paul Heaphy (0-1 each). St Lachtain’s - Stephen Farrell (2-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65); Liam Hickey (1-1); Colin Corcoran, Shane McGree (0-1 each).
Graigue-Ballycallan - P.J. Pollard, M. Fitzpatrick, R. Dunphy, V. Teehan, B. Murphy, G. Teehan, S. Butler, G. Cleere, P. Heaphy, W. O’Connor, S. Murphy (Ballagh), T. Minogue, Justin Dermody, Jason Dermody, B. Hayes. Subs: C. Hogan for V. Teehan, 37 mins; I. Hennessy for Heaphy, 42 mins; C. Power for Hayes, 46 mins; J. Butler for G. Teehan (inj), 59 mins.
St Lachtain’s - D. Deegan, J. Costelloe, L. Kennedy, M. Burke, M. Kavanagh, B. Quinn, D. Allen, J. Dooley, C. Corcoran, A. Rafter, S. Farrell, S. McGree, S. Burke, L. Hickey, M. Power. Sub: J. Phelan for Deegan (inj), 31 mins.
Referee - E. Ryan (Fenians).