Failing to take their chances saw O’Loughlin Gaels get edged out of a close senior hurling league encounter with a wily Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Their fighting spirit was never in question but if the city side are looking for a reason for their five-point loss in Callan on Sunday, then their first half wides tally will be the glaringly obvious answer.
O’Loughlin’s had plenty of chances in the opening 30 minutes but, with the wind at their backs, they were wasteful. They shot 10 wides in the first half; admittedly some were from half-chances, but didn’t help as they went in a point behind at the interval.
Those misses looked even more costly when they found themselves six down (1-12 to 0-9) within 10 minutes of the restart, a deficit which centred around Ronan Corcoran’s haul of 1-1.
However, the city side stormed their way right back into the reckoning. Seamie Cummins led the revival, timing his run to gather David Burke’s overhead pass and drill a bullet-like shot past netminder Patrick Reid just seconds after the Shamrocks had made it a six-point game.
The goal spurred the Gaels on, Mark Bergin whittling another score off the deficit with a free. Mark Kelly made it a one-point game when he blistered the paint on the crossbar after battling his way through several challenges - a few inches lower and the net would surely have billowed - before Bergin’s seventh point of the game made it level pegging with a quarter of the game to play.
At that stage O’Loughlin’s were firing on all cylinders, their attacking play leaving the Shamrocks in the shade. One or two more points could have swung the game their way but just when it looked like the game was there for the taking they eased off the gas.
It was a big mistake, especially against a team of the Shamrocks’ calibre. Given time to catch their breath they redoubled their efforts and took control once more, never letting O’Loughlin’s get another look-in.
It was one of those ‘what if’ afternoons for O’Loughlin’s, who could have been in charge from an early stage but couldn’t make their efforts count. They almost rattled the net within minutes of the throw-in, when some quick thinking from Mark Bergin picked out Martin Comerford on the edge of the square.
The corner-forward almost did all the rest; he made a perfect catch, turned and unleashed a rasping shot, but Patrick Reid made an excellent save to dent Comerford’s hopes.
O’Loughlin’s shrugged off that goal miss, but fared no better when trying for points. They had four wides on the board before finally opening their account with a Bergin free - admittedly the Shamrocks were not much brighter in attack, having scored just one point themselves.
It was a tepid start to the game, one that saw the sides end the opening quarter on level terms. Comerford profited from the solid work of midfield duo Paddy Butler and Jack Nolan by plundering a pair of points, while Eoin Reid and Mark Aylward kept the Shamrocks in close contention.
Comerford was a real handful for Ballyhale in the opening half, constantly posing problems for the Shamrocks backs as he made himself available for the ball. He had another chance to raise a green flag when he latched on to Seamie Cummins’s 20th minute pass and pulled first time, but the sliotar flashed wide of the target.
O’Loughlin’s kept creating chances throughout the half, no mean feat considering their relatively young side conceded years of experience to their rivals. The only trouble was that Ballyhale kept pace; with T.J. Reid in the unusual role of centre-back they seemed to have attacking options all over the field!
The Shamrocks pressed on, with midfielders Michael Fennelly and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick doing their best to make and take scores. Fitzpatrick bagged two late on, with Ronan Corcoran and Mark Aylward also getting in on the act to ensure they went in with the lead at half-time (0-8 to 0-7).
Despite all those first half wides persistence paid off for O’Loughlin’s on the resumption. Although Danny Loughnane was denied a crack at goal thanks to a superb Fitzpatrick hook, the city side continued to push for scores. Mark Bergin levelled the game with two points, the latter from a free after referee Gavin Quilty blew for a late foul after Bergin had released the sliotar - a good spot from the official.
However, they looked to be in trouble when the Shamrocks raced into a six-point lead in three devastating minutes. Ronan Corcoran got the ball rolling with a point, then nabbed a goal when he swatted a rebound home after Colin Fennelly’s searing 37th minute shot had been beaten skyward by Stephen Murphy.
With Henry Shefflin adding two frees it looked like curtains for O’Loughlin’s - but they weren’t finished yet. That swift run, copper-fastened by the Seamie Cummins goal, meant they were back in the game as the final quarter loomed - but they ran out of steam at the wrong time.
Given a chance to move clear again, the Shamrocks didn’t hesitate. Shefflin took charge, shooting four unanswered points to take the sting out of the challengers.
SCORERS: Ballyhale Shamrocks - Henry Shefflin (0-7, 0-5 frees); Ronan Corcoran (1-2); Mark Aylward (0-3); James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Colin Fennelly (0-2 each); Eoin Reid, Conor Walsh (0-1 each). O’Loughlin Gaels - Mark Bergin (0-7, 0-6 frees); Seamie Cummins (1-0); Paddy Butler, Mark Kelly, Martin Comerford (0-2 each).
Ballyhale Shamrocks - P. Reid, P. Shefflin, A. Cummins, A. Cuddihy, K. Nolan, T.J. Reid, R. Aylward, J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly, M. Aylward, C. Fennelly, H. Shefflin, E. Reid, D. Hoyne, R. Corcoran. Subs: J. Holden for Nolan, 45 mins; C. Walsh for E. Reid, 52 mins.
O’Loughlin Gaels - S. Murphy, E. Grant, A. Forristal, E. Kearns, J. Quan, B. Hogan, N. Bergin, P. Butler, J. Nolan, S. Cummins, M. Bergin, D. Loughnane, D. Burke, M. Kelly, M. Comerford.
Referee - G. Quilty (Slieverue).
Note: The resumption of the local hurling leagues allowed hosts Callan to show off a revamped John Locke Park. With a new pavilion including a shop, dressing-rooms and meeting rooms, not to mention an all-weather hurling pitch which proved popular with the scores of young hurlers who flocked to it, the work is a credit to the club.