By Michael O Connor.
Should we have been surprised? This Under 21A championship has been memorable, mainly due to the exploits of Kilmaley, Newmarket and Sixmilebridge. Add to that the name of Ballyea who stared down the barrel of defeat but scrapped another day out against Kilmaley who will in the replay be playing their seventh game in total.
Driving wind and rain prematch led to greasy conditions but to the credit of all involved it did not appear to hamper the efforts with two sterling honest displays provided by both sides as spectators of both sides applauded them off the field at the end of a titantic struggle.
Following the exit of Sixmilebridge in such dramatic controversial circumstances the previous Friday Ballyea were installed as favourites at their first ever attempt for the coveted crown.
KIlmaley had other ideas after nearly six hours hurling but a strand of opinion suggested that tiredness could envelop them against a fresh Ballyea side who thrived the year previous against the Mills in the B final and clearly were at home at headquarters.
A huge blow for Ballyea and a massive start for the neighbours when Daire Keane rose into the sky to catch a John Cabey free and blast past Shane Harkin after only 55 seconds action. This set the tempo for the game and whilst no other goal transpired the action was in plentiful supply. Tony Kelly and Michael O Neill swopped scores before two frees from Tony Kelly left Ballyea a point behind only for Jack Browne from play to level matters in the 7th minute.
Tony Kelly who had a number of wides over the hour hit his first wide before Kilmaley hit three in a row from Keane, Conor Cleary and O Neill shot Kilmaley three clear after 17 minutes action. Ballyea were holding their own with the breeze but not scoring a much needed goal despite a brace of Kelly free's by the 22nd minute. John Cabey was the final scorer for Kilmaley after 23 minutes as Ballyea pressed home for the remainder of the half and were guilty of wides and a missed chance from a 21 yard free. Kelly kept up the one man scoring mission three successful efforts, one from play, one from a 65 and a free with the effort play coming at the end of the first half. This score left Ballyea ahead (0-9) to (1-5) facing the second half.
At the break Kilmaley were being tipped to edge home and if one was to predict that Ballyea would be hit and miss from placed balls the Kilmaley tip would have been strengthened. The closeness of exchanges continued in the second half as neither side could hit a goal that would have decided the game. Brian Murphy hit the first point two minutes into the second half when a goal was at his mercy. Cian Moloney, John Cabey and Michael O Neill increased the expectation of a replay as their scores left a point between the sides, (1-8) to (0-10) with twenty minutes remaining. With the game entering the final ten minutes the sides had just been drawn level by another Jack Browne score couresty of an astute crossfield pass by Tony Kelly. Three minutes later Michael O Neill and Eoin Enright in the 55th were on target to stretch Kilmaley two clear.
Kilmaley supporters began to think that maybe, just maybe the championship might be coming their way for the first time since 1975. That thought did not cross Ballyea's psyche as they kept chipping away and Kilmaley were forced on the backfoot. A free in the 58th was sent over by Kelly as he missed a possible equaliser seconds later. Yet the best was yet to come when he broke free of a mass of Kilmaley men and reminding all of his wonder point in the Munster minor two years ago versus Tipperary scored a wonder point as all sides looked on in awe.
When will the replay be on? My humble uneducated guess is the All Ireland senior final will have been decided before the replay. It could be that long.
KILMALEY: Bryan O Loughlin, Stephen Griffey, Martin O Connor, Niall McGuane, Kevin McNamara, Colin McGuane, Enda Finnucane, Eoin Enright (0-1), Conor Cleary (0-1), John Cabey (0-2), Michael O Neill (0-4), Cillian McNamara, Cian Moloney (0-1), Daire Keane (1-1), Aidan McGuane (0-1). Subs: Paul Kennedy for Moloney, Kevin Conlon for McNamara
BALLYEA: Shane Harkin, Declan Keane, Paul Flanagan, Cormac Ryan, David Sheehan, Cathal Doohan, Jack Browne (0-2), Gearoid O Connell (0-1), Stan Lineen, Brian Murphy (0-1), Tony Kelly (0-10), Niall Deasy, Eoin Donnellan, James Murphy, Mark Coughlan. Subs: Martin O Leary for Donnellan, Tadgh Lynch for Coughlan, Joe Neylon for Keane, Eanna McInerney for Deasy.
REFEREE: Rory Hickey (Eire-og)