Piltown must have wondered what they had done to upset the gods, because a clash of two genuine contenders was over for them virtually before the first quarter had passed.
By that stage all business Bennettsbridge were thundering along with a lead of 4-2 to 0-2, and a place in the semi-finals of the junior hurling championship was within their grasp.
By the start of the second half, when Piltown had a man sent off before the ball was thrown-in, it was a done deal for the ’Bridge, who a few weeks ago had serious difficulty coping with the same opposition in the League final.
“That was an easier than expected win,” admitted Bennettsbridge manager, Christy Walsh afterwards. “We got a few lucky breaks in the first half. Two of the goals dropped into the net.
“That gave us a bit of cushion and then we had the extra man from the start of the second half. After that there was only going to be one winner. We had a good game against them in the League final, so we were ready because we knew what to expect. It was a big game for us, and the players responded well to the challenge.
“We are in the semi-finals now. We got to the last two finals and didn’t win them. We have to try and drive on. The players can forget this scoreline. The result wasn’t a true reflection of the quality of either team. Some days everything can go for you, and we enjoyed one of those days.”
The winners opened backed by the fresh breeze blowing towards the village end. They hit the ground running, and with busy midfielders Darragh Wafer and Kevin Blanchfield taking control of their patch from the start, they got on top from the off.
Early points from Blanchfield and Nicky Cleere (free) were followed by a well worked goal from Hugh O’Neill in the seventh minute. Aidan Cleere and Wafer worked the ball at pace from back to front before O’Neill, who had a lot of work to do to complete the move, sent the net dancing.
Piltown got off the mark with a point from a free by James Norris, who added a second via the same route in the 11th minute. Within two minutes the ball was in their net again, however. This time Brian Lennon started a move on the ‘50’ after being knocked to the ground. Kevin Blanchfield went on a blazing run through the heart of the Piltown defence, and he passed the ball to Micheal Shield, who crashed a low ball to the net (2-2 to 0-2).
During the next few minutes the game blew up on Piltown when they were unfortunate to conceded two goals. Goalie Andrew Norris first brought off a super stop from a Liam Blanchfield rocket, but then two handling errors within as many minute gifted goals to Darragh Wafer, from 60 metres, and Brian Lannon. All of the sudden the divide was a yawning 4-2 to 0-2.
Piltown were in trouble. At the break they were 0-4 to 4-6 down. Just as the whistle for the rest sounded there was a scuffle on the ’Bridge ‘50’. Defender Jason Cleere ended up in a heap on the ground. The referee consulted with him umpire to see what had happened, but he didn’t take any action.
After the teams lined up for the start of the new half, the match official red carded the Piltown player involved in the Cleere incident. The losers were a man down, and 14 points adrift. It was game over for them.
In fairness to Piltown, they put in a bit of a burst when the action resumed and Martin Power and James Norris - free after a foul on Peter McCarthy - pointed, but the opposition replied at the double through Cleere (65 and free), after Shiel’s won the first one and Hugh O’Neill was fouled for the second.
All knew it was definitely Bennettsbridge’s day when sub William Murphy scored a fine goal with his first touch of the ball (5-9 to 0-8) in the 42nd minute. He also claimed the sixth goal, a smashing effort from a tight angle on the left after clever approach play by Liam Blanchfield.
No doubt, the winners are a fine outfit and along with those already mentioned, Robert Lennon, Enda Morrissey and Nickey Cleere hurled up a storm.
They were sure of a few things leaving Ballyhale on Saturday - they won’t enjoy as many good breaks the next time, and things won’t be as easy. Still, this was good!
SCORERS: Bennettsbridge - Nicky Cleere (0-8, six frees, one 65); William Murphy (2-0); Brian Lennon (1-1); Darragh Wafer, Hugh O’Neill, Micheal Shiel (1-0 each); Liam Blanchfield (0-2); Aidan Cleere (0-1, free); Kevin Blanchfield (0-1). Piltown - James Norris (0-5, frees); Kevin Walsh (0-2); Nicky Kenny, Martin Power, Aidan Nugent (0-1 each).
Bennettsbridge - Enda Cleere, Sean Wemyss, Robert Lennon, James Moran, Jason Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Aidan Cleere, Darrgh Wafer, Kevin Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill,
Brian Lennon, Nicky Cleere, Liam Blanchfield, Micheal Shiel, Sean Morrissey. Subs - William Murphy, Edward Fitzgerald, Paul O’Neill, Dylan Walsh, Kevin Brennan.
Piltown - Andrew Norris, Brendan Norris, Andrew McCarthy, Tom Kenny, Kevin Walsh, David Norris, Thomas Talbot, Robbie Culleton, Neil Kelly, Nicky Kenny, Peter McCarthy, Adam Murphy, James Norris, Shane Kinsella, Martin Power. Subs - Ian Long, Aidan Nugent, Dean Brophy, Shane Walsh.
Referee - John Kennedy (Ballyhale Shamrocks).
Frees: Bennettsbridge 10 (4 and 6); Piltown 12 (8 and 4).
Wides - Bennettsbridge 9 (5 and 4); Piltown 6 (4 and 2).