Ballygunner 2-11 Loughmore-Castleiney 0-12
Ballygunner advanced to January's Munster club final after a tempestuous encounter which saw 13-man Loughmore-Castleiney’s remarkable season end following 19 consecutive weekends of action.
A goal in each half for the Waterford champions from Kevin and Mikey Mahony proved critical, as did the agility of Gunners netminder Stephen O’Keeffe in maintaining a clean sheet.
Two of Loughmore's star men, brothers Noel and John McGrath, were sent off as the dual Tipp-champions season came to an end.
In a cross-wind and on a soft pitch, Ballygunner made the stronger start, leading by seven points come the first half water break. Dessie Hutchinson opened the scoring after 27 seconds following Pauric Mahony’s infield pass.
Moments later, the Premier men must have felt the green flag would be raised as John McGrath bore in on goal following Noel McGrath’s pass. However, Déise veteran Stephen O’Keeffe dived brilliantly to his right to deny Loughmore a goal. Seconds later, John McGrath’s free levelled matters a minute later.
Mahony converted his first free in the sixth minute before brother Kevin, released by Paddy Leavey’s cross-goal pass, steered the ball past Aidan McGrath for the game’s opening three-pointer.
Dessie Hutchinson, displaying a sharpness which has served club and county so well this year, added two points within a minute to send the Gunners six points clear after nine minutes. Five minutes later, O’Keeffe was pressed into action again, contorting himself to bat away John McGrath’ shot.
On the quarter hour, Pauric Mahony converted another free to leave Ballygunner in command at that early juncture.
Two swiftly converted John McGrath frees in the 16th and 17th minutes warmed the palms of the travelling support before a well-worked Ballygunner move was finished by Peter Hogan four minutes later.
Ciarán Connolly pointed in the 22nd minute before Loughmore’s challenge was made all the more difficult by Noel McGrath’s sending off following an altercation with Paddy Leavey, moments after an earlier coming together between the two.
Peter Hogan and John McGrath traded points in the 24th and 25th minutes but despite being down a player, Loughmore visibly grew into the contest. John McGrath landed three of the half’s last four points (all from frees) with Kevin Mahony’s sole reply leaving the Gunners two clear at the break.
Barely 30 seconds after the resumption, Dessie Hutchinson pointed once more, with Loughmore responding well via points from Ed Connolly and Tommy Maher in the 31st and 33rd minutes.
Billy O’Keeffe, played in by Mikey Mahony, tagged on a 38th minute point before Mahony himself found the net following a one-two with Dessie Hutchinson to send the Deisemen five points ahead.
As the ground grew soggier, the game became increasingly attritional, with scores proving harder to come by. Ciarán Connolly’s third point from play arrived in the 45th minute but Loughmore would not add to their tally thereafter.
A grandstand finish looked assured after John McGrath was impeded by Barry Coughlan in the 51st minute which led to referee Johnny Murphy signalling for a penalty. However, that decision was reversed after Murphy brandished a second yellow to McGrath following a consultation with the umpire.
Down to 13 men, Loughmore gamely battled on but this particular mountain proved just too hard to climb. Amidst a slew of late substitutions, the one and only score of the final quarter fell to the impressive Hutchinson, his fifth of a damp Dungarvan day.
The 2018 Munster champions advance to the final on January 8/9, where they will meet Kilmallock of Limerick.
Ballygunner: S O'Keeffe; I Kenny, B Coughlan, T Foley; S O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, R Power; C Sheahan, P Leavey; D Hutchinson (0-05), M Mahony (1-00), P Hogan (0-02); B O’Keeffe (0-01), K Mahony (1-01), Pauric Mahony (0-02f).
Subs used: B O’Sullivan for B O’Keeffe (53 mins), H Ruddle for P Hogan (59).
Loughmore-Castleiney: A McGrath; J Ryan, J Hennessy, L Egan; T Maher (0-01), J Meagher, B McGrath; C Connolly (0-03), T McGrath; C McGrath, L McGrath, N McGrath; E Connolly (0-01), E Sweeney, J McGrath (0-07f).
Subs used: C McCormack for Ciaran McGrath (43 mins), A Ryan for E Connolly (55), E Meagher for T Maher (58), Conor McGrath for E Sweeney (60+),
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)