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Ashdown Park/Amber Springs Hotels Intermediate Football Championship Final: HWH-Bunclody 1-12 Crossabeg-Ballymurn 0-4
HWH-Bunclody enjoyed one of those rare afternoons when everything goes to perfection in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday, and it led to their welcome return to the top flight after an eleven-year gap as Crossabeg-Ballymurn were outclassed to the tune of eleven points in an unexpectedly one-sided Ashdown Park/Amber Springs Hotels Intermediate football championship final.
Clinical and commanding in everything they did, the outcome was never in doubt after a powerful first-half performance that established a handsome 0-10 to 0-2 lead.
And with the Crossabeg-Ballymurn attack failing collectively to make any inroads, their admittedly very slim prospects of a recovery were emphatically ended in the 45th minute when wily veteran Peter Atkinson availed of an error to slam home the game's only goal.
When these sides clashed in the group stages in early August, a game the Wexford District men won by 0-13 to 2-4, the intro to my match report noted that readers shouldn't be surprised if they were to meet again at the business end of the championship.
And while that prediction came to pass, the belief that their second meeting would be close was blown out of the water as the momentum HWH-Bunclody gained as a result of playing just one week earlier had them bursting out of the traps.
In contrast, Crossabeg-Ballymurn were ring rusty and very slow to get going, and this defeat was in sharp contrast to last year's decider when they died with their boots on after giving Horeswood a huge scare (0-17 to 1-13).
This time around, the Over The Water crew shot three times as many wides as scores (twelve to four), and their final tally was the lowest in a final since 2007 when Kilmore were crushed by Shelmaliers on a 4-11 to 0-2 scoreline.
Saturday's winning margin was also the largest since that particular decider, and it gave HWH-Bunclody a second Intermediate crown after their breakthrough in 1976 which laid the foundations for Senior successes in 1982 and 1985.
This long-awaited victory came eleven years to the very day since they lost their top-flight status, and it must have been a joy for their fans to be able to really savour the closing stages when they weren't in danger of being caught.
If one sought a weak link in their team it would be impossible to find, because this was a supreme collective effort that surely thrilled mentors Peter Halley, Bartley Regan, Seamie Kelly and Ger Cowman.
Some shone more brightly than others of course, none more so than county hurler Aidan Nolan who made it look so effortless as he glided all over the field and picked off an array of memorable points both from play and placed balls.
Long-serving joint captain Colm Farrell and the very talented Martin O'Connor marshalled a dynamic back line to perfection, and the fact that Crossabeg-Ballymurn could only muster two points from play is also an immense tribute to the efforts of netminder Patrick Kavanagh plus Conor Crean, Adam Hogan, Billy Kelly and Ciarán Kavanagh.
The second joint captain, Seán Kenny, got through an amount of donkey work around the middle along with Páraic Sinnott and the roving Byron Byrne, while Eoin Kelly, Cathal Doyle and Peter Atkinson all chipped in with priceless scores on a day when Kevin Dunne's work as a targetman was also most effective.
One late black card aside, they had the luxury of being able to empty their bench purely to give more panel members a taste of playing in a county final.
None of those taken off had put in a below-par shift, and the strength of the squad was reflected in the huge contribution made after his arrival by John Dunne for the second game running.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn will be haunted by the failure to come anywhere close to doing themselves justice, although it's still a remarkable achievement to rise from Junior 'B' and contest eight adult football finals in just nine seasons (nine games, in fact, if you factor in the replay in the 2014 Junior final).
While joint captain Oisín Foley and Paddy Devereux, in particular, tried all they knew to get their side moving, it simply wasn't to be on a day when their shooting left a lot to be desired.
In that regard, they could have done with the services of Cormac O'Rourke who had kicked five points from play when they defeated HWH-Bunclody by 0-13 to 2-4 in August.
Mark Byrne chipped in with three scores that day too, but on this occasion the six starting Crossabeg-Ballymurn attackers could only muster a paltry one point between them from open play.
While county hurling colleagues Aidan Nolan and Pádraig Foley both went to midfield for the throw-in, they quickly reverted to their respective centre-forward roles as HWH-Bunclody made full use of first-half wind advantage.
Cathal Doyle got them up and running on the two-minute mark after an initial long ball by Martin O'Connor found Kevin Dunne, with Nolan doubling their advantage from a '45 after a long period when Crossabeg-Ballymurn had ample possession.
However, they couldn't make it count on the scoreboard, with netminder Ben Turner coming forward to hit the post from a free before sending a follow-up '45 wide.
Dunne had HWH-Bunclody's sole miss of the opening half before the third of eight in that spell from their rivals, by Sam Kelly, arrived just before Nolan doubled the gap.
Peter Atkinson's solo effort made it 0-3 to nil, while Eoin Kelly tapped over after a foul on Kevin Dunne, and it took until the 16th minute before Bill Eviston finally opened Crossabeg-Ballymurn's account from a Kelly pass.
There was an emphatic response from a HWH-Bunclody side working extremely well as a unit, reeling off six points without reply between the 17th and 27th minutes to underline their dominance.
Eoin Kelly made it 5-1 before a Seán Kenny interception teed up the unmarked Peter Atkinson, but he tried to dink the ball over the head of netminder Ben Turner and it went over rather than hopping under the bar.
Still, it left five points between the sides, and the margin quickly grew courtesy of Aidan Nolan with a lovely swing of the boot from a Páraic Sinnott assist, before his short crossfield '45 picked out the unmarked Kenny for an easy score.
Nolan then got his hand on an attempted pass by defender Robbie Murphy and forced Turner into a good save, but he trotted out to the 45-metre line again and this time chose to split the posts himself.
Ronan Devereux, who switched positions with Pádraig Foley, drove a low attempt across the face of goal and wide before Cathal Doyle latched on to the ricochet from a block on Byron Byrne's kick to extend the HWH-Bunclody lead to 0-10 to 0-1 by the 27th minute.
Despite their struggles, Crossabeg-Ballymurn should have been closer by the interval because, in the four additional minutes played, Sam Kelly did convert one free but missed another two afterwards.
Kelly looked to create a goal chance early on the re-start but fell under a challenge, and the '45 that eventually arose was caught impressively under his own crossbar by Colm Farrell.
Conor Devereux did pull back a point as the rain started to fall, but Aidan Nolan responded from a free before the title was well and truly wrapped up in the 45th minute.
The fresh legs of the recently-introduced John Dunne were evident as he played a one-two with Eoin Kelly and darted towards the Clonard end.
His kick from distance on the run may well have been a miscued point attempt, but it arrived at a trajectory and a speed that made it difficult for Ben Turner to bring under control.
And when the ball spilled from his grasp, Peter Atkinson did what he has perfected over the years, being alert to the possibilities and driving the breaking ball to the net (1-11 to 0-3).
A foul on Paddy Devereux led to what proved to be the last Crossabeg-Ballymurn point from a Sam Kelly free in the 46th minute.
Their handling and option-taking continued to let them down though, and there was no further score after John Dunne soloed clear before feeding Aidan Nolan to make it 1-12 to 0-4 with just over ten minutes of normal time to go.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn threw caution to the wind, moving Paddy Devereux to full-forward and also bringing Oisín Foley out from the full-back line to midfield in a swap with David Kehoe.
Devereux did get his fist on one lobbed free taken by Mark O'Connor, but the ball went wide which just about summed up an occasion that the unfortunate losers will be keen to forget about in a hurry.
In contrast, the DVD will be played over and over again in Redmond's of Bunclody, and while nothing is ever certain in sport, the age profile and promise of this title-winning team suggests they will find their feet quickly in Senior ranks in 2020.
For the record, efficient referee John Carton - a replacement for the injured Justin Heffernan - awarded 24 frees to the losers and ten to the victors, while twelve of the final's 17 wides were recorded by Crossabeg-Ballymurn.
HWH-Bunclody: Patrick Kavanagh; Conor Crean, Colm Farrell (joint capt.), Adam Hogan; Billy Kelly, Martin O'Connor, Ciarán Kavanagh; Seán Kenny (joint capt., 0-1), Páraic Sinnott; Eoin Kelly (0-2, 1 free), Aidan Nolan (0-5, 2 '45s, 1 free), Cathal Doyle (0-2); Byron Byrne, Kevin Dunne, Peter Atkinson (1-2). Subs. - John Dunne for Sinnott (42), Josh Martin for Atkinson (50), Edward Dunbar for K. Dunne (53), Keith O'Hara for O'Connor, black card (60), John Atkinson for Byrne (60+2), Barry Kehoe for C. Kavanagh (60+2), also Steven Kavanagh, Jamie Kavanagh, Mark Sheehan, Tadgh Ó Ceallaigh, Eddie Black, Lee Levingstone, Jamie John Murphy.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn: Ben Turner; Oisín Foley (joint capt.), Martin Redmond, Robbie Murphy; Seamus Carroll, Ronan Devereux, Conor Devereux (0-1); Paddy Devereux, David Kehoe; Bill Eviston (0-1), Pádraig Foley, Cian Lambert; Mark Byrne, Sam Kelly (0-2 frees), Mark O'Connor. Subs. - Jack Fortune for Murphy (35), Andy Butler (joint capt.) for Byrne (44), Conor Barlow for Carroll (57), Matty Sludds for Lambert (57), also Peter Dunne, Robert Byrne, Eoin McDonald, James Dixon, Oran Maddock, Cathal Byrne, Seán Reck, Cormac O'Rourke, Evan Kinlough, Conor Maddock, Conor Gormley, Michael Eviston, Eoin O'Connor.
Referee: John Carton (Monageer-Boolavogue).