BY NIALL SHERRY
Mooncoin prevail by the minimum on historic day
AIB All-Ireland Club Junior Hurling Championship Final
Ballygiblin (Cork) 1-18
Croke Park, Saturday February 5th 2022
Saturday February 5th 2022. The day Mooncoin were crowned AIB All-Ireland Club Junior Hurling Champions.
Willie Coogan’s men did enough to get over the line against Munster’s finest, Ballygiblin of Cork, in blustery conditions at headquarters last Saturday. Despite hitting many uncharacteristic wides, it would be a stunning long-range sideline cut from one of this season’s standout performers, Martin O’Neill in additional time that proved the difference between the finalists at the long whistle.
Mairtin Gannon, who had been an injury doubt, lined out in the engine room, alongside Seanie, while Paul Henebery started at No.6, while Martin O’Neill donned the number 5 jersey.
The game started at a frantic pace, with Ballygiblin drawing first blood thanks to a nice point from midfielder Darragh Flynn, after Cormac Daly had been dispossessed. Mooncoin drew level seconds later, thanks to a well struck point from distance by John Fitz. The men from South Kilkenny then hit a couple of bad wides, before John Fitz put them ahead on 4 minutes, following nice link-up play from Ciaran Quilty and Pa Walsh.
Moments later, Ryan Donegan picked up the ball out on the left before striking over a lovely point to level things up. Both Donegan and his midfield partner, Darragh Flynn were breaking forward lots during the opening exchanges, as they looked to put the Leinster Champions on the back foot early on.
Mooncoin were then awarded a free on half-way, which O’Neill stroked over with great confidence and ease. The next score came from a Pa Walsh free, after John Fitz was fouled after making good progress towards the opponent’s goal. From the restart, Pa picked up the breaking ball and rifled over a stunning score from half-way, to put his side 3-points ahead. It was noticeable that Pa was playing from a much deeper position than his No.14 jersey suggested, and as usual he was getting through mountains of work and getting on lots of loose ball. Ciaran Quilty then took a nice pass before finding Kevin Crowley in space, and the wing-forward slotted over a fine score to further extend Mooncoin’s lead.
The Cork Champions were then awarded a soft free by Galway whistler Brian Keon, and their dead ball specialist, Joseph O’Sullivan duly obliged by pointing and opening his account. O’Sullivan then doubled his tally from midfield via a second placed ball, again harshly awarded against Willie Coogan’s men. Ballygiblin then got their 3rd score on the bounce when wing-forward Michael Walsh fired over a fine point from out the field, to leave just one between the sides after 12 minutes as the Cork team’s supporters found their voices.
Pa Walsh then steadied things a little when he struck over a free from about ‘35 out. The next passage of play saw Adam Croke take possession out on the right and fire over a cracking score from the Cusack stand side of Croker. Aussie Rules star Mark Keane then won the ball well before passing to his midfielder, Darragh Flynn, who popped over an easy point from the ‘D’ to reduce the gap to 2 points.
Mooncoin were continuing to miss scoring opportunities and this allowed Ballygiblin to stay in touch, when they should have been perhaps at least 5 points in arrears. Then came a great chance for a major. Adam Croke took possession out on the right, cut inside his marker and headed for goal. The corner-forward pulled the trigger, but a tremendous save from opposition netminder Noonan, foiled the Kilkenny side’s goal bid. More Mooncoin misses followed, including an easy free from Pa.
Sean O’Sullivan then picked up the breaking ball and split the posts from distance, to leave just the minimum between the finalists. Ballygiblin kept pumping long balls into the Mooncoin defence, but they along with keeper Eoin Purcell were sweeping up well at the back. The game had gotten a little scrappy, especially in the middle third, where the Rebel County side were on top.
The game was tied on 28 minutes when a long pass to centre-forward and former Tipperary U21 All-Ireland winning captain Colin English, saw the No.11 race away from Cormac Daly to pop the ball over the bar. Mooncoin responded immediately, John Fitz found the hard-working Martin O’Neill who split the posts from distance to edge his side ahead. Ballygiblin levelled matters straight away. Full-forward Sean O’Sullivan struck over a fine score from out on the right, much to the delight of the travelling fans.
The same player nearly struck for another Ballygiblin goal moments later when he cut in from the right and bared down on the advancing Eoin Purcell before striking the ball. Much to the relief of Mooncoin, Aidan Doyle was in the right place at the right time to deflect the goal-bound effort behind for a ‘65. The accurate Joseph O’Sullivan sent the ball between the posts for the last score of the opening period, to somehow leave the Cork side with a one-point lead at the short whistle.
Willie Coogan while calm, will probably have wondered how his charges hadn’t exited to the changing rooms with a commanding lead, given the number of chances they had created in the first half. Mooncoin had registered 8 wides in contrast to their opponents 3.His opposite number, Ronan Dwayne will no doubt have been quietly content to see his side lead at the break.
With their manager’s words ringing in their ears, Mooncoin began the second period brightly, hitting the first three scores of the half. First up was Ciaran Quilty who popped a nice point over, after Pa Walsh had intercepted a Ballygiblin sideline cut. Walsh then took a fine score from distance when he picked up the breaking ball from the restart. The Cork champions tried to respond. Colin English took a pass and was headed for goal as he outpaced his marker. Out of nowhere came Mark Kearns, who somehow managed to prevent the strike on goal with a wonderful piece of defending.
Mooncoin were certainly playing with a little more rhythm. Their support play was more evident as was their use of the ball. The Gannon’s then combined to set up an opportunity for Killian Hogan, and the No.15 expertly pointed a lovely score after 35 minutes.
Ballygiblin then re-took the lead. Centre-back Mark Keane pumped a long searching ball into the Mooncoin defensive third, and somehow Dean Barry ran onto it and fired a low shot past Eoin Purcell to raise the green flag. 37 minutes gone. Game on.
The Leinster Champions response was emphatic. Killian Hogan took the ball and sent over a lovely point to make matters level again. Hogan was much more involved in the third quarter. His movement was causing problems and his work-rate was being rewarded with scores and possessions. Hogan was then upended by his marker and Pa Walsh fired over the placed ball to restore his side’s lead with 40 minutes on the clock.
Mooncoin then introduced Sean O’Dwyer for Kevin Crowley as they sought to suffocate the Ballygiblin engine room. After some loose play by both sides, danger man Hogan then took the sliotar and rifled over his best effort to date from ‘65 out.
Martin O’Neill was then blown up for a foul and shown a yellow card, harshly in my opinion. Joseph O’Sullivan duly pointed from the placed ball. Further scrappy play, saw Darragh Flynn take possession and raise a white flag to deadlock matters again. Ballygiblin keeper Noonan, still on a high after his 1st half save, then played his side into trouble when he tried to emerge and break up the pitch. Mooncoin hunted him down and won the ball back which then allowed John Fitz to strike over a nice point. The same player almost goaled shortly after, only to be denied by some last gasp defending, as the Cork men put the ball out for a ‘65. Martin O’Neill confidently struck it between the posts with 47 minutes gone.
Seanie Gannon then produced some fine work before laying the ball off to Ciaran Quilty who said ‘thank you very much’ and took a fine point. Substitute Sean O’Dwyer was then shown a yellow for yet another soft foul, this time on Joseph O’Sullivan. Joseph got back to his feet and slotted over the resulting free.
The next score was a Mooncoin one. John Fitz controlled the ball beautifully, before popping over a fine point on 50 minutes. Galway whistler Keon then handed out another booking to the Kilkenny side, this time Pa Walsh got his name taken, again harshly. Joseph O’Sullivan rifled over the placed ball from about ‘60 out. Full-back Cormac Daly was next for a chat with the man in black, his details taken for a pull on the helmet of the now attacking based Mark Keane. Joseph O’Sullivan did what was asked and reduced the Cork sides deficit to just one point. Paul Henebery then received a yellow following a desperate lunge in a bid to halt a Ballygiblin attack with just 4 minutes of normal time remaining.
The battle was well and truly on, and the man you want in such a battle is Pa Walsh. Despite being surrounded by 3 or 4 defenders, the bustling No.14 held tight to the sliotar and battled hard to win the free, which he struck over himself. The Cork Champions were pumping the ball into their full-forward line where they knew Mark Keane, would like Pa Walsh, battle hard. The Collingwood star drew the foul from Cormac Daly, who was having a right tussle with Keane. The free was dispatched by Joseph O’Sullivan.
As things really heated up, up stepped young Adam Croke with an outrageous piece of skill and finish from what seemed an impossible angle near the corner under the Hogan Stand. Mooncoin 2 ahead as the match entered stoppage time. Croke then added his name to the list of Noresiders in the ref’s notebook, again, rather harshly. Joseph O’Sullivan then added to his growing tally of frees, to reduce the gap to just one point as the frantic finish reached its climax.
Some strong running and battling by Mairtin Gannon earned his side a sideline cut on half way. Most sides may have played it short, or just try to waste a bit of time but not the talented Martin O’Neill. The No.5 stepped up and struck a sublime sideline ball straight between the Ballygiblin posts, like a dagger through the heart. Darragh Flynn did manage to pick off a point in response, but time was not to be the Cork side’s friend as referee Brian Keon sounded the long whistle. Mooncoin had reached the promised land. All-Ireland Club Champions? YES SUIR!
Scorers for Ballygiblin: Joseph O’Sullivan 0-9 (0-8f, 0-1 65), Darragh Flynn 0-4, Dean Barry 1-0, Seán O’Sullivan, Ryan Donegan 0-1, Michael Walsh 0-1, Colin English 0-1.
Ballygiblin: Christopher Noonan; Brian O’Gorman, Fionn Herlihy, James Mullins; Barry Coffey, Mark Keane, Michael Lewis; Ryan Donegan, Darragh Flynn; Michael Walsh, Colin English, Joseph O’Sullivan; Dean Barry, Seán O’Sullivan, Kieran Duggan.
Subs: Dillon Sheahan for Duggan (47), Aidan Donegan for Barry (57)
Scorers for Mooncoin: Patrick Walsh 0-7 (0-3f), John Fitzgerald 0-4, Martin O’Neill 0-4 (0-1f, 0-1 65, 0-1 s/l), Killian Hogan 0-3, Adam Croke 0-2, Kevin Crowley 0-1, Ciarán Quilty 0-1.
Mooncoin: Eoin Purcell; Aidan Doyle, Cormac Daly, Mark Kearns; Martin O’Neill, Paul Henebery, Jim Delahunty; Máirtín Gannon, Seán Gannon; Ciarán Quilty, John Fitzgerald, Kevin Crowley; Adam Croke, Patrick Walsh, Killian Hogan.
Sub: Seán O’Dwyer for Crowley (40).
Referee: Brian Keon (Galway)
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Then here’s to the Suir with its valley so fair
As of times we wandered in the cool morning air
Where the roses are blooming and lilies entwine
On the banks of the Suir that flows down by Mooncoin.
A cracking final. Both sides giving it everything. No quarter given. Mooncoin deservedly crowned All-Ireland Junior Club Champions.
How fitting that the winning margin was the same with which the South Kilkenny side had lost out on against Mayfield of Cork just 5 years ago in the Junior decider.
Yes, they hit many wides and didn’t raise a green flag, but by God did Willie Coogan’s side battle. Pa Walsh was the TG4 MOTM. Pa finished the day with 0-7 to his name, including 3 from play, but it was his non-stop battling and selfless work rate that made such a difference in Croke Park. Show Pa a wall and he will run through it.
Willie Coogan had heroes all over the park. Adam Croke with 2 stunning points, the second of which was my point of the day (from play). The angle, the skill, the finish at such a young age, on the biggest stage possible. John Fitz, banishing those painful memories from 2017 and hitting 0-4 in the process. Killian Hogan’s strike were all tremendous.
Martin O’Neill. Incredible performance from the former underage Kilkenny player. Like Fitz, he finished with 0-4, but his final score from the sideline deep into stoppage time was a thing of beauty. Mr. Brian Cody, take note.
The defence coped well with the Ballygiblin attacking threat. Aidan Doyle certainly prevented one goal, while Mark Kearns block on English was also crucial. Eoin Purcell’s restarts were both quick and accurate.
The ‘G Force’ Mairtin & Seanie Gannon in the middle third, stood up and battled immensely hard across the 60-odd minutes and showed their counterparts a clean pair of heels on a number of occasions.
This panel of players deserve the ultimate reward gained in Croker. Injured Captain Niall Madden was sent to collect the cup and give the winners speech. The bond between these men is clear for all to see.
From everyone at the Kilkenny Observer, Congratulations Mooncoin. Enjoy the weeks ahead.