Ballyea 4-18 Thurles Sarsfields 2-22
Tony Kelly inspired a comeback to remember for Ballyea as they upset Thurles Sarsfields at Cusack Park in Ennis to reach their first Munster senior club hurling final.
Trailing by five points with two minutes remaining, Kelly and Pearse Lillis hit points before inter-county footballer Gary Brennan forced extra time with a 64th minute goal.
From there on Ballyea dominated and despite a late goal from Padraic Maher, Kelly and Niall Deasy clinched the win for the Clare side, who had only won their first county title last weekend.
Ballyea could hardly have hoped for a brighter start and after Conor Lanigan got Sarsfields up and running with a first-minute point, the home side took the lead after a foul on Deasy inside the large rectangle, and Kelly converted the penalty after five minutes.
The impressive Tommy Doyle had an instant reply for Sarsfields, but in the seventh minute Ballyea hit their second goal. Again a long ball into the square to Brennan induced panic in the Thurles defence and after the ball broke, Lillis was first to the spot and hit the net with a sweet ground stroke.
That 2-00 to 0-02 lead was trimmed again by Doyle at the other end, but either side of an unclaimed goal chance from Lanigan, Kelly hit frees for Ballyea who moved five points clear after 12 minutes.
Lar Corbett should have closed that lead a minute later but he kicked wide from point blank range. However a few seconds later, the former Tipp star put enough pressure on the Ballyea defence in the air that Aidan McCormack’s delivery from distance managed to creep past Kevin Sheehan as Thurles only trailed by 2-2 to 1-03.
After that Sarsfields hit six points without reply, points that seemed to come easier than before, as Ronan Maher and Denis Maher began to dominate at the back for the Tipperary champions.
Deasy and Pat Joe Connolly did land a couple of scores for Ballyea before the interval, but they still trailed 1-11 to 2-04 at the break.
Deasy landed a free soon after the restart for Ballyea to put just three points between the sides, but they then went through a real barren spell as Thurles hit five of the next six scores to lead by seven with 20 minutes to go.
Armed with that advantage, Thurles seemed to be satisfied to coast to the finish line and how Ballyea punished their lethargy. Led by Kelly from midfield, they gradually began to close the gap. After the 52nd minute he sprung to life and hit three wonderful points from play, while Lillis and Damien Burke also weighed in with scores to put just three points between the sides.
And four minutes into added-time Brennan showed impressive speed and skill to solo in from the left wing and he rattled the net via the crossbar to force extra-time.
Ballyea continued to dominate in the first period of extra-time as three points from the buoyant Kelly put them on top, but Damien Burke’s goal saw them lead by 4-15 to 1-20 with ten minutes remaining.
But Thurles did manage to raise a challenge again and after Bourke pointed, Padraic Maher robbed Jack Browne to level matters again with a goal with just five minutes left.
Credit to Ballyea though, they came back with the powerful finish and after Deasy and Stephen Cahill swapped points, Deasy hit two late scores to clinch an unlikely win for the Banner men.
Ballyea: K Sheehan; J Neylon, J Browne, B Carigg; P Flanagan, G O’Connell, J Murphy; T Kelly (1-10, 1-00 pen, 0-03f), S Lineen (c); N Deasy (0-05, 0-03f, 0-01’65), P Connolly (0-01), C Doohan; M O’Leary, G Brennan (1-00), P Lillis (1-01).
Subs used: D Burke (1-01) for O’Leary (5 mins), D Egan for Carigg (11 mins), A Keane for Connolly (48 mins), F Neylon for Egan (64 mins),
Thurles Sarsfields: P McCormack; S Maher, S Lillis, R Dwan; D Maher, P Maher (c) (1-00), R Maher (0-01); J Maher (0-01), S Cahill (0-01); B McCarthy, A McCormack (1-04), T Doyle (0-03); L Corbett, P Bourke (0-09, 0-06f), C Lanigan (0-02).
Subs used: M O’Brien (0-01) for Lanigan (51 mins), K Dunne for Doyle (57 mins), D Kennedy for Lillis (62 mins), C Moloney for Corbett (63 mins), L Corbett for Moloney (60 mins), S Lillis for J Maher (60 mins), C Lanigan for Dunne (60 mins), J Maher for Lanigan (70 mins), C Moloney for Kennedy (73 mins), M Cahill for Corbett (76 mins).