BRAGGING rights and a valuable win were celebrated in equal measure as Tullaroan got off the mark in the senior hurling league - but boy, did they do it the hard way!
Tullaroan have had something of a love-hate relationship with the league in recent years - Sunday’s win over Graigue-Ballycallan at a breezy Palmerstown was only their second from the last three campaigns (they won just one game last year, having lost all five in 2011). After losing to St Martin’s in this year’s opening round the fear of another disappointing campaign may have been gnawing at them, but they eased the pressure thanks to a battling performance against their neighbours.
That said, Tullaroan made life hard on themselves at times. They raced into the lead in the opening stages, using the wind at their backs to its full potential, but conceded a number of needless frees to the deadly-accurate Niall Millea, something which kept the Kilmanagh men snapping at their heels.
Just as prayers were being offered up by the strong Tullaroan contingent in a large crowd, salvation arrived in the form of John Maher. Snapping up Paul Buggy’s arcing sideline cut, Maher unleashed a shot which escaped the grasp of Graigue goalkeeper P.J. Trant and ended up in the net, pushing Tullaroan into a five-point lead (2-11 to 1-9) with 12 minutes left on the clock.
Quick off mark
Keen to get something on the board Tullaroan were quick off the mark when it came to scoring on Sunday. The fast-moving forwards played their part, Martin Walsh fighting for the opening score before fouls on Ken Coogan and Walsh gave Mark Walsh the chance to add two frees to his early 65 and stretch the lead to three points by the ninth minute, Dara Walton grabbing Graigue’s sole point to break the one-way traffic.
Tullaroan, it seemed, were in no mood to hang about and used the strong wind behind them to keep raining the sliotar down on the Ballycallan backs. The tactic worked a treat in the 13th minute, as Paul Buggy fielded a puck-out in midfield and dropping a teasing ball in around the square. Shane Cuddihy was quickest to react, winning possession and taking off past netminder P.J. Trant, but his gallop was halted when full-back James Ryall hauled the forward down before he could shoot.
Buggy came in to take the penalty, but any ideas that he might settle for a point were quickly dispelled. Sensing that this was a gilt-edged chance for side to carve out a solid lead, a confident Buggy aimed his shot below the crossbar, rattling the Graigue net in style (1-4 to 0-1).
Ballycallan were in danger of drifting out of the reckoning at this stage, but two good scores from Niall Millea kept their hopes up. Millea converted two frees - the first an excellent score from long score into the teeth of a biting wind billowing from the scoreboard end of the ground, the second from close to the 45m line - that helped to keep Graigue’s spirits up.
They gave one of those points back to Tullaroan when Ciaran Hoyne was adjudged to have overcarried the sliotar, allowing Mark Walsh to increase his tally, but Graigue were about to find their groove in the match.
Conceding needless frees saw Tullaroan give their rivals easy access back into the game, Millea punishing the opposition with a brace of scores from placed balls while William O’Connor grabbed another, getting a lucky break after Michael Maher’s attempted 23rd minute clearance fell his way his path.
Realising that they were giving away their lead, Tullaroan kicked back into gear. Mark Walsh led the way, picking off a pair of points, before Padraig Walsh snapped up a clearance from big brother Tommy and raced away from his marker to split the posts.
That left Tullaroan with a handsome five-point lead (1-8 to 0-6), but all of a sudden they were brought back down to earth with a bump.
Having held an almost watertight ship at the back for the half, Tullaroan leaked a big score at the worst possible time. The game had ticked into injury-time when Eddie Brennan aimed a shot at the Tullaroan posts. Goalkeeper Richie Holland fielded the dropping ball but hesitated as he left his line to make the clearance.
That gave Robert Murphy just enough time to react. Racing in, the midfielder-turned forward wrapped up the netminder in a challenge, then booted the sliotar over the line. Graigue could scarcely believe their luck as, having played against the wind and a mean defence, they were now just two points behind (1-8 to 1-6).
Conceding that goal hurt Tullaroan, who struggled to make the same impact on the game in the second half. Although Paul Buggy picked off the opening score they swiftly conceded two to Graigue, needless frees allowing Niall Millea to leave just a point between the sides (1-9 to 1-8) by the 35th minute.
Tullaroan could feel Graigue breathing down their necks by this stage, but dug deep again when it mattered. With Padraig Walsh now operating in the half-back line they began to close Graigue down in the middle third, Walsh using his pace to race around and sweep up loose ball before driving it back towards the forwards. He wasn’t averse to making the odd dash into offence either; one such move saw Walsh break from defence to gather a Buggy cross and slam it over the crossbar. That score, which came after another Mark Walsh free, gave Tullaroan room to relax as they stretched their advantage out to three points with little over 20 minutes left (1-11 to 1-8).
The gap was back to two when Millea tacked on his eighth free of the evening, but Graigue were flattened when Maher struck that precious second goal. With Mark Walsh swiftly adding a point, the Ballycallan men were six points down with time against them (2-12 to 1-9).
That’s not to say that Graigue didn’t give everything in search of a way back into the game. They halved the deficit in the closing stages, and moved Eddie Brennan in on full-back Tommy Walsh as they fought for an equalising goal, but Tullaroan wouldn’t budge.
SCORERS: Tullaroan - Mark Walsh (0-8, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); Paul Buggy (1-1, 1-0 pen); John Maher (1-0); Padraig Walsh (0-2); Martin Walsh (0-1). Graigue-Ballycallan - Niall Millea (0-8, frees); Robert Murphy (1-0); William O’Connor (0-2); Dara Walton, Vinny Teehan (0-1 each).
Tullaroan - Richie Holland, Paddy Campion, Tommy Walsh, Michael Maher, Mark Simpson, Stephen Maher, Richard Maher, David Dowling, Ken Coogan, Paul Buggy, John Maher, Padraig Walsh, Mark Walsh, Shane Cuddihy, Martin Walsh. Subs: Peter Walsh for Dowling, 31 mins; David Dowling for Buggy, 57 mins.
Graigue-Ballycallan - P.J. Trant, Darragh Egan, James Ryall, Shane Murphy, Ger Teehan, Ciaran Hoyne, Adrian Burke, John Cleere, Eddie Brennan, Robert Murphy, Niall Millea, Dermot Heafey, William O’Connor, Dara Walton, Thomas Ryan. Subs: Jimmy Murphy for S. Murphy, 40 mins; Paddy Kennedy for Heafey, 49 mins; Vinny Teehan for R. Murphy, 54 mins.
Referee - R. Dowling (Kilmacow).