Saints march on to league final

Holding their nerve in the face of driving pressure saw St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) edge their way into the intermediate hurling league final.

Holding their nerve in the face of driving pressure saw St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) edge their way into the intermediate hurling league final.

The Saints’ forwards racked up a big first half score against Thomastown before their backs held firm in the second half to push the team over the line, writes Trevor Spillane.

Such was the tight nature of the group four teams had a chance to take the top two spots. A spot was there for Thomastown’s taking, but in the end fourth place was as much as they could muster.

That they finished outside the top two came down to goal chances. They were few and far between, but when Pat’s got one they took it. Full-forward Eoghan Bergin had nothing but the net on his mind when he latched on to Barry Staunton’s break-down in the 13th minute and dashed in to drill the sliotar past Dylan Walsh.

The goal helped push Pat’s into a six-point lead (1-5 to 0-2), an advantage which remained into the 44th minute when Thomastown’s Darren Burke almost caught Ballyragget on the hop - literally - with a long range shot.

The bouncing sliotar made life difficult for Michael Gannon, who saw the ball slip from his grasp. Luckily for the netminder, the ball trickled to the right side of his right hand post.

To say Patrick’s earned their win through a little slice of luck would have done a disservice to their first half performance. The Ballyragget men roared into action in the opening 30 minutes, using the stiff wind at their backs to amass a sizeable lead.

Within eight minutes they were four points clear, the half-forward line of Joe Brennan (0-2), Michael Brennan and Kevin Kelly doing most of the damage. before the Bergin goal swelled their advantage.

The leaders held sway in the middle third of the field, with Geoffrey Brennan lending support as the hard-working Brian Phelan and Bill Staunton kept Michael Donnelly and Dessie Walsh quiet. They kept a similar dash going for the remainder of the half but the traffic wasn’t as one-way. Dylan Waugh and Michael Donnelly (free) did their bit as Thomastown pushed to get back into the game, those points coming in the midst of another Kevin Kelly brace and one from Conor Delaney, before Geoffrey Brennan made a dash from the centre to split the scoreboard end posts.

Powered on by the breeze at their backs it was no surprise to see Ballyragget dominate possession, but they couldn’t fully force their advantage home. A rising number of wides left Thomastown off the hook - the Grennan men were more economical with their shooting, with Thomas O’Hanrahan, Donnelly (free) and Waugh raising white flags.

It was hardly nerve-shredding for Ballyragget who, thanks to the impressive Kelly (0-3), Eoghan Bergin and Barry Staunton boasted a nine-point lead by half-time (1-14 to 0-8). However, with Thomastown about to enjoy the advantage of the elements, would it be enough?

Thomastown came out with all guns blazing in the second half, but found they needed more than the wind to force the issue. Ballyragget adapted their game, dropping a little deeper to soak up the extra pressure that came on them. The tactic worked, as it took Thomastown six minutes to trouble the scoreboard operator.

A Donnelly 65 got them up and running; he tacked two frees on to a Dylan Waugh point as they cancelled out Joe Brennan’s point, leaving six between the teams with less than 20 minutes to play.

Thomastown kept hunting for a goal to halve the deficit, but it never came - that Burke shot was the closest they came to raising the green flag. They took a point off thanks to Donnelly’s resulting 65, but two Kevin Kelly frees lifted the pressure off Pat’s.

The final quarter saw Thomastown lay siege to the Ballyragget goal, but the Saints held firm - dropping more players back as they frustrated Thomastown. Led by Jonjo Farrell and Darren Burke they pushed for a goal to snatch a share of the points, but it never came.

SCORERS: St Patrick’s - Kevin Kelly (0-8 0-6 frees); Eoghan Bergin (1-1); Joe Brennan (0-3); Brian Phelan, Michael Brennan, Conor Delaney, Geoffrey Brennan, Barry Staunton (0-1 each). Thomastown - Michael Donnelly (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-2 65); Dylan Waugh (0-3); Jonjo Farrell, Thomas O’Hanrahan (0-2 each); Adrian Burke, Darren Burke (0-1 each).

St Patrick’s - M. Gannon, P. Cahill, S. Staunton, J. Gannon, R. Healy, K. Delaney, G. Brennan, B. Phelan, Bill Staunton, M. Brennan, K. Kelly, J. Brennan, C. Delaney, E. Bergin, Barry Staunton. Subs: M. Staunton for Barry Staunton, 57 mins; S. Roberts for C. Delaney, 60 mins.

Thomastown - D. Walsh, S. Mahony, S. Lanigan, R. O’Hara, B. Whelan, P. O’Hanrahan, D. Lanigan, D. Walsh, M. Donnelly, B. Murphy, D. Waugh, S. Waugh, T. O’Hanrahan, J. O’Hanrahan, J. Farrell. Subs: A. Burke for J. O’Hanrahan, 31 mins; D. Burke for Murphy, 31 mins; F. Challoner for Lanigan, 48 mins; D. Prendergast for S. Waugh, 57 mins.

Referee - E. Mansfield (Cloneen).