A point down and a man short, O’Loughlin’s seemed destined for defeat, but five points in as many minutes helped the city slickers overpower Ballyhale Shamrocks in the senior hurling league, writes Jim Buggy.
Missing for the victors was Martin Comerford, while Henry Shefflin suffered a recurrence of a stress fracture injury and will be sidelined for weeks. The impressive Johnny Doyle deputised for Comerford, while James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick took over from Shefflin with Michael Fennelly starting at centre-forward.
T.J. Reid opened the scoring with a point. John Doyle responded, and already the Ballyhale full back line was being dragged around by the clever movement of the O’Loughlin’s forwards.
Brian Cody pointed, with youngster Paddy Deegan replying in kind with a sweet strike. A lengthy free from O’Loughlin’s ’keeper, Stephen Murphy, dropped over the crossbar, and this was followed by a period of dogged, give not an inch play.
James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick broke the deadlock with a point. T.J. Reid added another. Sammy Johnston seemed to wrong foot the entire Ballyhale defence when he caught a deflected delivery. He raced towards goal, but his shot was saved and the ball was cleared.
O’Loughlin’s confidence seemed to falter slightly after that missed goal chance, and a succession of wides didn’t help their cause. They went without a score between the 10th until the 17th minutes, hitting six wides in that time.
T.J. Reid added two points for Shamrocks before a foul on Mark Kelly got O’Loughlin’s moving again. Mark Bergin pointed. His pointed effort left Ballyhale leading by 0-7 to 0-4 at the break.
It was Reid who opened the scoring again after the turn, this time with a placed effort. Mark Bergin replied to it. Seven minutes in and Mark Kelly was fouled charging through. Bergin planted the ball in the net. The sides were level.
The exchanges were threatening to turn sour because heavy tackles were going in all over, with scraps breaking out in places. Referee Peter Burke let the play flow; not blunting the edge on the exchanges.
A couple of frees from Reid and sweet efforts from his brother, Eoin and substitute Ronan Corcoran re-established a lead for Ballyhales.
Paddy Deegan was found after receiving a quick puck-out from Stephen Murphy. He pointed with conviction. Mark Bergin revved up the tempo with two like scores in quick succession, blasting his way through tackles before firing over.
Colin Fennelly had been kept under wraps by the tigerish defending of Eoghan Grant for around 50 minutes, but when the Kilkenny star turned the full-back on the ‘20’, Grant pulled him down. The punishment was a second yellow card. T.J. Reid converted the resulting free to push Ballyhale one ahead with eight minutes left.
Losing a man seemed to drive on O’Loughlin’s and spark a revival. During the closing few minutes they enjoyed their best period of the game.
Jason Quan had been introduced at left half back, and along with the impressive Brian Hogan and his colleagues, they allowed no scoring opportunities to the Ballyhale attack.
Mark Kelly seemed to draw on reserves of energy as he upped his already impressive work rate to ensure the ball stayed in Ballyhale territory as much as possible. Kelly set up Doyle to level affairs. When Jason Quan won the resulting puck-out, he sprayed the ball forward to Conor Bergin, who found the prolific Doyle once again to score.
Two more long range Murphy frees sandwiched between a Mark Bergin strike saw O’Loughlin’s home safely and to the top of Group A. Normally with Comerford playing, their entire attack revolves around his intelligent passing and vision, but they proved on Saturday that they have strength in depth.
Scorers: O’Loughlin Gaels - Mark Bergin (1-6, 1-3 frees, 0-1 65); John Doyle (0-3); Stephen Murphy (0-3, frees); Paddy Deegan (0-2); Sammy Johnston (0-1). Ballyhale Shamrocks - T.J. Reid (0-10, 0-7 frees); James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Brian Cody, Ronan Corcoran, Eoin Reid (0-1 each).
O’Loughlin Gaels - Stephen Murphy, Gary Bryan, Eoghan Grant, Eddie Kearns, Paddy Butler, Brian Hogan, Martin Gibbons, Paddy Deegan, Mark Bergin, Conor Bergin, Jack Nolan, Sammy Johnston, David Burke, Mark Kelly, John Doyle. Sub - Jason Quan
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Richie Reid, Paul Shefflin, Aidan Cummins, Michael Dermody, Alan Cuddihy, Joey Holden, Bob Alyward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Kevin Mullen, Brian Cody, Michael Fennelly, T.J. Reid, Colin Fennelly, David Hoyne, Eoin Reid. Subs - Mark Alyward, Ronan Corcoran, Keith Nolan.
Referee - Peter Burke (Emeralds).