People saw some of the best, and some of the worst too, as thrill seekers Bennettsbridge charged into their third consecutive junior hurling final.
Daring, all action Galmoy looked booked for the biggest upset of the championship season when deadly striking free taker, Phil Russell drilled over a free in the 45th minute to take his side a handy 1-16 to 0-12 ahead.
The ’Bridge, backed by the wind at the time, had been careless and indisciplined and their constant concession of frees had handed a serious advantage to opponents who could hurl more than a bit.
To the winners credit, they realised the danger. A pointed free in the 48th minute from the sure striking Nicky Cleere did nothing more than stop the rot. However, two more such scores from Cleere and a third from Hugh O’Neill were followed by a smashing goal from Liam Blanchfield - at the end of a beautifully placed ball by wing-back Jason Cleere - within five hard to credit minutes to turn the match on its head.
Suddenly from being seven points down, the ’Bridge were on terms (1-16 each). The ’Bridge hurling locomotive was out of control. They powered on, out-shooting the opposition by 1-3 to no score during the closing six minutes to hint at the sort of quality form that has them regarded as favourites as they qualified for the final yet again.
“Galmoy were better than us. They were more hungry than us for a lot of the way,” admitted Bennettsbridge manager, Christy Walsh. “We had a good conflab at half-time and said we would do this, that and the other when we had the wind in the second half.
“We didn’t do it. It took us about 20 minutes of the second half before we got going. We didn’t improve at all after half-time. We weren’t good. We were lucky in ways. We won’t play as poorly as that too often and get away with it.
“We were in fierce bother with about 12 minutes to go. It wasn’t easy find the man who was going to pull the game out of the fire for us. We dug it out. That is a good sign, and this fright will stand to us.
“This is not a bad way to be going into a county final, knowing that if you are not at your best, you can get into trouble. We are there now and it will be a 50/50 game against Mooncoin in the final. They are a good team.
“We are disappointed with the overall performance, but delighted to be in the final.”
The winners filled Nowlan Park with promise on Sunday as they opened smartly. With Sean Morrissey, Cleere and Hugh O’Neill sharing the scoring they jumped 0-5 to 0-1 clear after eight minutes playing into the wind. Their composure, and good use of the cross field ball had the opposition in trouble, serious trouble.
Galmoy hung in. Their second point arrived in the 11th minute from Donnacha Grey after a great run through the middle of the opposing defence. A pointed free from Russell added momentum to the team effort, and it lifted another notch when Padraic Grey clipped a ground shot to the net following a high delivery from Russell (0-6 to 1-3).
The teams traded points before Galway opened their shoulders and blasted towards half-time. Stephen Delaney pointed. Russell did the same. Noel Doherty got to the end of a ball from Delaney before hitting the target.
They were flying. They missed two reasonable chances before Cleere and James Dunne swopped minors to leave Galmoy ahead by 1-10 to 0-8 at the break.
There had been warning signs for the ’Bridge. They conceded 10 frees during that half. They repeated that figure in the closing moiety, and it hurt them.
Nigel Stanley and Kevin Blanchfield traded points after the turn before Russell sliced a wonderful sideline cut from 35 metres over the bar in the 35th minute (1-12 to 0-9).
The deficit went up to seven points in the 43rd minute (1-15 to 0-11). Sub Cormac Wafer finished a lovely move involving Jason Cleere and Brian Lennon to cut it, but Russell upped it again to seven in the 45th minute (1-15 to 0-12).
Galmoy were flying, with Jason Stanley, Niall Doherty, Russell and others hurling up a storm. The ’Bridge were troubled, but they kept plugging away. Eventually they turned the tide, with Nicky Cleere, Enda Morrissey, wing backs Aidan and Jason Cleere, Kevin Cleere and Liam Blanchfield very much to the fore.
The ’Bridge got a serious warning. They should heed it for the next test.
SCORERS: Bennettsbridge - Nicky Cleere (0-10, eight frees); Liam Blanchfield (2-0); Kevin Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill, Cormac Wafer (0-2 each); Brian Lennon, Micheal Shiel, Sean Morrissey (0-1 each). Galmoy - Phil Russell (0-10, eight frees); Padraic Grey (1-0); Niall Doherty, Donnacha Grey, Nigel Stanley, Noel Doherty, Stephen Delaney, James Dunne (0-1 each).
Bennettsbridge - Enda Cleere, Sean Wemyss, Robert Lennon, James Moran, Jason Cleere, Enda Morrissey, Aidan Cleere, Darragh Wafer, Kevin Blanchfield, Hugh O’Neill, Brian Lennon, Nicky Cleere, Liam Blanchfield, Micheal Shiel, Sean Morrissey. Subs - Cormac Wafer, William Murphy.
Galmoy - Stephen Murphy, Michael Murphy, Jason Stanley, Paul Delaney, Tom Phelan, Brendan Phelan, John Phelan, Niall Doherty, Donnacha Grey, Phil Russell, Nigel Stanley, Noel Doherty, James Dunne, Stephen Delaney, Padraic Gray. Sub - Joe Dollard.
Referee - Raymond Byrne.