Ballygunner 2-18 Abbeyside 0-13

Ballygunner claimed a fifth successive Waterford Senior Hurling Championship for the first time in their history at Fraher Field, as their dominant second-half performance swept aside the challenge of Abbeyside before a 4,275-strong crowd.

Goals from Brian O’Sullivan and Conor Power, in addition to a majestic display from talisman Pauric Mahony proved telling for Fergal Hartley’s side, whose all-round game reached a level which a spirited Abbeyside unit struggled to contain.

At the break, despite playing into the strong wind, Ballygunner led by three points (0-9 to 0-6) and were good value for their lead. Abbeyside, who won the toss and availed of the elements, hit the front inside 10 seconds through Mark Ferncombe following John Hurney’s pass.

The challengers doubled their lead a minute later thanks to Patrick Hurney following Sean Whelan Barrett’s assist, much to the delight of the considerable Abbeyside support.

Pauric Mahony got Ballygunner off the mark with a fifth-minute free from 40 metres, and he restored parity two minutes later with his second conversion after Tim O’Sullivan’s run forward was illegally stymied by Darragh McGrath.

Given the gale, Abbeyside probably required some form of interval advantage, and they certainly had the opportunities to make good on the territory and possession they enjoyed.

But a run of five successive wides for Peter Queally’s men coincided with six successive white flaggers for the champions, with Pauric Mahony’s influence growing following his switch into full-forward.

Barry O’Sullivan edged the Gunners ahead in the 15th minute, only for Abbeyside’s Maurice Power to restore parity for the third time 60 seconds later.

Mark Ferncombe, Abbeyside’s top scorer in the Championship, sent over frees in the both the 19th and 22nd minutes, before Mahony landed a 24th minute free to bridge a nine-minute gap between scores for the Gunners.

Mahony’s influence grew as the half wore on, and despite a pre-match back problem, the Waterford star made light of his discomfort to turn over a superb brace of points in the 25th and 26th minutes.

And things got even better three minutes from the break for Ballygunner when Mahony glided the ball between the uprights from underneath the lip of a packed Fraher Field stand.

Brian O’Sullivan and Billy O’Keeffe turned over points in the 29th and 31st minutes, but the last word of the first half was left to Abbeyside’s John Hurney, who pointed following assistance from Sean Whelan Barrett.  

Try as Abbeyside undoubtedly did, the interval didn’t break Ballygunner’s rhythm as they pulled away to take a 17th senior title.

A duo of Mahony frees in the 34th and 36th minutes was soon followed by Brian O’Sullivan’s deal sealing goal five minutes later, who finished smartly from 10 yards following Tim O’Sullivan’s pass. Mahony and Ferncombe traded points before Abbeyside’s Patrick Hurney received a straight red card for tampering with Philip Mahony’s helmet.

Pauric Mahony scored another picture postcard point in the 49th minute, with the defiant Ferncombe replying with another free a minute later.

But the icing on Ballygunner’s cake was provided by Conor ‘Speedy’ Power, who showed a clean pair of heels to Darragh McGrath before sliding the ball beneath Stephen Enright (2-14 to 0-09). Mikey Mahony, the youngest Mahony sibling in action, opened his account in the 53rd minute before substitute Michael O’Halloran registered the first of two late scores.

Gunners goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe dived smartly to his right to deny O’Halloran a 56th-minute goal, with Ferncombe converting the resulting 65.

Brian O’Sullivan and Pauric Mahony added to their tallies in the 56th and 57th minutes respectively before Michael O’Halloran added to his tally in injury-time.

Brian O’Sullivan turned over his third point in the third additional minute, with the honour of the last score falling to the hard-working Ferncombe just seconds before Thomas Walsh’s final whistle.

Ballygunner celebrated their historic title win as if it were their first, and perhaps that’s part of their winning formula. Their insatiable appetite shows no signs of abating.

Ballygunner: S O’Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlan, I Kenny; Philip Mahony, W Hutchinson, B O’ Keeffe (0-01); H Barnes, S O’Sullivan; P Hogan, Barry O’Sullivan (0-01), Pauric Mahony (0-13; 0-8f), T O’Sullivan; C Power (1-00), Brian O’Sullivan (1-03), M Mahony (0-01).  

Subs used: JJ Hutchinson for B O’Keeffe (48 mins), C Sheahan for M Mahony (59), B Power for W Hutchinson (60 +), P Cooke for S O’Keeffe (60+), M Mullally for C Power (60+).  

Abbeyside: S Enright; B Looby, S O’Hare, J Elsted; C Prunty, D Collins, D McGrath; J Beresford, M Power (0-01); N Montgomery, J Hurney (0-01), S Whelan Barrett; P Hurney (0-01), M Ferncombe (0-08; 0-03f, 0-01 65’), T Murray.

Subs used: T Looby for S O’Hare and R Foley for T Murray (both HT), M O’Halloran (0-02) for S Whelan Barrett (42 mins), M Twomey for J Elsted (56 mins), E Kiely for N Montgomery (59).

Referee: Thomas Walsh.