Martin's lay down marker
St. Martin's 0-20 Oulart-The Ballagh 1-14
There are more weeks left in the season than anyone would care to count, but as those dog days of summer morph into chilly autumn afternoons, few games will come close to matching this absolute cracker for entertainment, quality and pace of play.
This is what the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship is all about and Bellefield was the place to be last Friday as the two best teams in the county went at in for 60 minutes of high-octane hurling heaven.
Who knows what the season will bring? These two may not meet again but every hurling fan in the county should pray that their paths cross down the line. Neither side had time to take a breath in this Group B opener. There were few stoppages and some of the inter-play was exceptional for this stage of the season.
St. Martin's, where can one start? They were immense. In the last few years the sending-off of Patrick O'Connor would have killed them, and if not that, then David Redmond's perfectly-timed major would have done them in.
But a steely backbone has been growing in Piercestown/Murrintown for a while and it starts with Luke White in goal. This guy was scapegoated as a youngster between the Martin's posts, put in and then bounced out. He gave an exhibition of goalkeeping against Oulart-The Ballagh.
The defence lost O'Connor to his second yellow in the 36th minute and, after the resulting free was tapped over, they conceded just 1-1 in the time remaining. Their level of play was absolutely exceptional.
While the team is really gelling as a unit, at both ends of the field, there has to be a special mention for Rory O'Connor. At one stage in the first-half he had three defenders in his path to goal and no help. His jinked inside, outside, inside again, left all three for dead and pointed. It was a remarkable score.
And what of Oulart-The Ballagh? At times they struggled to deal with the sheer pace of their opponents. It's the first game of the championship season and the holders weren't at their best but they will be back, ready to meet again, when the time comes.
With St. Martin's playing against the breeze and leading by 0-3 to 0-2, Oulart-The Ballagh had their big chance of the first-half. A lapse in their opponents' defence allowed a double-overlap on the left of goal. David Redmond failed to control the sliothar but it bounded on to Tommy Storey, but his pulled effort was weak and White saved with ease.
Still, with Dessie Mythen purring with three first-half points, Peter Murphy notching a trio of his own and Nicky Kirwan picking off dead-balls, Oulart-The Ballagh moved 0-10 to 0-6 ahead after 21 minutes. The most important spell of the game came before the interval.
Between the 23rd minute and Justin Heffernan's half-time whistle St. Martin's scored six points against the breeze. They should have had a seventh, as a Joe Coleman free was waved wide but did stay inside the right upright.
Nonetheless, Coleman had six in the half, Rory and the superb Jack O'Connor had two each, and Mark Maloney also picked off a nice score from tight on the right wing. The spree of scoring moved St. Martin's level at 0-12 each at the change-around.
After the helter-skelter first-half, the sides took a few second period minutes to find their feet. Patrick O'Connor's sending-off, for two fairly soft yellows, probably did the game a favour as the tempo immediately returned.
Kirwan put Oulart-The Ballagh 0-13 to 0-12 up from the resulting free, but it would be the last time they led. Jake Firman, Coleman, Jack and Rory O'Connor all pointed as St. Martin's moved into a 0-16 to 0-13 lead after 41 minutes.
When Garrett Sinnott hauled in Eoin Moore's long ball and was felled close to goal, Oulart-The Ballagh had a lifeline. However, while Conor O'Leary's shot wasn't great, it still needed saving and Luke White did just that, diving to his right.
That real test of their credentials came with 14 minutes remaining. Murtha Doyle sent David Redmond away after a rare occurrence of sloppy St. Martin's defending. Cool as you like, the experienced midfielder rattled the net to put a point between the sides (0-17 to 1-13).
Surely now it was time for the famous Oulart-The Ballagh turning of the screw. Nope. St. Martin's just kept going. Joe Coleman scored from his own half, then nailed a free, then added another one. Suddenly his side were four points up again with as many minutes remaining.
Murtha Doyle cut the gap to a goal. For a match with so few stoppages, four minutes added-time seemed excessive.
In the final of those, Martin Og Storey was fouled 20 metres out from goal.
Nicky Kirwan stepped up and had to go for it. His low shot fizzed towards the corner but Daithí Waters was the man in the right spot on the line to make the stop and the full-time whistle went as St. Martin's scooped up the loose ball.
St. Martin's: Luke White; Willie Devereux, Patrick O'Connor (joint capt.), Conor Firman; Daithí Waters, Aaron Maddock, Paudie Kelly; Mark Maloney (0-1), Harry O'Connor; Jack O'Connor (0-3), Rory O'Connor (0-3), Darren Codd; Joe Coleman (0-11, 9 frees, 1 '65), Ciarán Lyng (joint capt., 0-1), Jake Firman (0-1). Subs. - Barry O'Connor for Maddock (44), Michael Codd for D. Codd (57), Jack Devereux for Maloney (59), Eoin O'Leary for H. O'Connor (60+1).
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Eoin Moore, Keith Rossiter, Barry Kehoe; Anthony Roche, Shaun Murphy, Mick Jacob; David Redmond (1-0), Rory Jacob; Des Mythen (0-3), Tommy Storey, Peter Murphy (0-3); Murtha Doyle (0-2), Garrett Sinnott, Nicky Kirwan (capt., 0-6, 5 frees). Sub. - Martin Og Storey for R. Jacob (47).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).