A season that has been decorated with a junior championship win might yet offer more to a talented generation of Bennettsbridge hurlers.
Time will tell, but there was much to admire about the combined talents of the ’Bridge team when they got their under-21 hurling Roinn A championship off to a flying start by beating gutsy St Lachtain’s (Freshford) in Jenkinstown on Sunday.
It wasn’t an entirely happy, happy occasion for the winners, who had nine of their successful junior team in action. They were the better team, no doubt. They have a liberally talented crew, but they tend to make life difficult for themselves at times.
Ten minutes from the end James Maher burst through the winners defence and rifled home a goal that sliced the divide to 0-18 to 1-11. The ’Bridge didn’t look in serious danger or anything, but they should have been so far up the road they should have been virtually out of sight.
In the end they needed a late blast of 1-2 from the strong finishing William Murphy, plus another few scores, to help reflect something like the real difference in class between the sides. After Maher’s fine goal the ’Bridge needed a good and sharp reply. It came from Sean Morrissey, who clipped over a vital point from 40 metres.
Murphy picked off a minor within a minute before he got to the end of a delivery from out the field by Kevin Blanchfield to touch the ball into the net from close range in the 56th minute to finally kill off the opposition. The reward for victory is a clash with James Stephens, probably on the weekend after next.
There was lovely movement about the ’Bridge during the opening half when they landed some smashing points. Kevin Blanchfield was a real force in midfield, and with the half-back line from the junior team behind him, Lachtain’s found it hard to get a look in.
The winners reeled off six points against one reply during the opening eight minutes. Enda Morrissey, Liam Blanchfield (2), Dylan Walsh, Sean Morrissey and Cormac Wafer did the damage.
Enda Morrissey, Sean Morrissey, Hugh O’Neill and the gifted speed merchant that is Liam Blanchfield asked all sort of questions of Lachtain’s, who didn’t have too many strong replies. Slowly the points mounted.
At half-time the divide was 0-14 to 0-6. Everything looked good for the ’Bridge - 14 scores from 18 attempts; their touch, their pace, their combination play all impressed.
Yet, after the turn it was St Lachtain’s who took hold of the match, with Philip Campion, Simon Rafter and James Maher driving them on. They opened with a point from Shane Donnelly. Then there was another from a free by Maher after a wild pull across Liam Hickey. Eamon Hennessy then nicked a very good point on the turn.
The ’Bridge weren’t out of it by any means, it was just they couldn’t find the target. They ran up three wides before Cormac Wafer slipped over a lovely score from distance on the left wing. Within seconds Micheal Shiel added on another to ease the pressure and leave them 0-16 to 0-9 clear.
Lachtain’s continued to chase. It wasn’t the chase of a desperate team, but one that looked fired by hope. John Quinn and Cormac Wafer traded minors. Then Enda Morrissey and Denis Lennon did likewise before Maher planted the ball in the ’Bridge net with a vicious drive, right to left, in the 50th minute (0-18 to 1-11).
When Sean Morrissey and William Murphy snatched points close together during the following minutes the outcome was assured. The weighty ’Bridge talent prevailed.
SCORERS: Bennettsbridge - William Murphy (1-3, two points frees); Sean Morrissey (0-4); Liam Blanchfield, Cormac Wafer (0-3 each) ; Enda Morrissey, Kevin Blanchfield, Micheal Sheil, Dylan Walsh (0-2 each). St Lachtain’s - James Maher (1-2, point free); Philip Campion, Liam Hickey, Denis Lennon (0-2 each); Shane Donnelly, Eamon Hennessy, John Quinn (0-1 each).
Bennettsbridge - Shane Nolan, Paul O’Neill, Robert Lennon, Shane Byrne, Jason Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Aidan Cleere, Cormac Wafer, Kevin Blanchfield, Sean Morrissey, Hugh O’Neill, Micheal Shiel, Dylan Walsh, Liam Blanchfield, William Murphy. Subs - Kevin Brennan, Bill O’Neill, Luke Dowling.
St Lachtain’s - Darren Brennan, Harry Burke, Criobhan Bergin, Darragh Quinn, Paul White, Benny Quinn, Simon Rafter, Philip Campion, John Quinn, Ally Rafter, James Maher, Liam Hickey, Shane Donnelly, Eamon Hennessy, Denis Lennon. Subs - Fintan White, Shay Bourke, John Bowden.
Referee - Peter Burke (Emeralds).