Flying Fethard reach Croker
Fethard 0-18 Sylane (Galway) 0-9
A classy Fethard side are Croke Park-bound after a comprehensive smothering of Galway's Sylane in the AIB All-Ireland Club Junior hurling championship semi-final in Parnell Park on Saturday.
In truth, the sloppy underfoot conditions probably kept the margin down. There were clues about Sylane in their previous appearance at this level, and they simply weren't good enough, and really didn't have enough quality, to compete with the Wexford Intermediate 'A' champions.
They were big, hard-hitting but a little awkward and looked to out-muscle St. Mogue's. They moved the ball long, looking constantly for their most dangerous player Oran Martin, and really didn't have a Plan B.
On the other hand, despite the slippery conditions making their style of play more difficult, Fethard nipped around and played an attractive, stylish brand of hurling. Their short passing was accurate and in general they knew the correct moment to stretch their opponents with the crossfield line-drive pass.
Right across the sextet of forwards Fethard showed in front. When there's no let-up from the relentless pace and precision it's bound to show eventually on the scoreboard, and double scores at full-time doesn't flatter the victors in the slightest.
While the midfield went through a mound of work and kept coming back for more, and the full-back line were resilient - often in one-on-one battles - the most effective line for Fethard had to be the three at half-back.
There was hardly a foot put wrong in there, certainly not one that wasn't caused by the conditions. Garrett Foley played the captain's role down the centre with John Tubritt superb on the left and Joe Sutton immense on the right. Sylane simply got zero joy in that area of the field and it frustrated them.
The Galway side came out of the blocks fired up and ready for battle. However, it was clear that this energy needed to be used wisely and had to result in scores. They managed just a solitary Alan Cullinane free and it was a soft one too for a foul on Oran Martin.
Fethard then turned the screw. Mark Wallace, who ended the game with eleven points, scored three frees in a row. Mikie Dwyer worked some space and hit the target in the twelfth minute as his side moved 0-4 to 0-1 up.
Oran Martin was a difficult man to stop and he nabbed his first score at the start of the second quarter. However, Joe Sutton perfectly backed up Daire Barden and drilled a long-range point - the score of the half - to respond in kind.
A couple of Wallace frees helped the New Ross District side to go 0-7 to 0-3 ahead but Alan Cullinane responded at the other end. Still, Fethard finished on the front foot.
Ciarán Dwyer worked away from goal and picked off a nice point before Mikie followed from a tight angle on the left of the posts.
Up by 0-9 to 0-5 at the break, St. Mogue's were comfortably the better side.
Their one-dimensional opponents looked even weaker as the early stages of the second-half saw Fethard setting up camp in their half of the field.
Yet Fethard would go on to hit double-digits in second-half wides and five of them came in those opening exchanges. Two Wallace points sandwiched a Cullinane free before Ciarán Dwyer took advantage of a fine crossfield Edmund Power pass to register.
A goal was in the offing when Daire Barden ran at the Sylane defence.
He had Mikie Dwyer alone inside and picked him out but the talented corner-forward chose to swish at the ball with a waist-high pull and connected with nothing but air.
It was a bizarre feeling when Oran Martin pointed twice in two minutes as, somehow, despite almost complete dominance, the sides had equally shared the six third quarter points. Not only that, the mini-revival had given Sylane a jolt of energy and they had a few promising moments at the start of the final quarter.
It didn't last, and when Cullinane missed a free from just outside the '50 on the left of goal, it took the wind right out of their sails. Wallace then converted a '65 at the other end after Power's shot from an acute angle was saved behind by Ronan Costello.
Power got the first of two scores that his performance desperately deserved to make it 0-14 to 0-8 with seven minutes left. The game was up as a contest at this stage and Sylane started to get cynical.
Shane Glynn was sent-off for a horrible pull across Daire Barden with five minutes left. With Croke Park and an All-Ireland final around the corner, Fethard were never likely to lower themselves to that level.
They just kept playing hurling. They missed some chances but Wallace brought his tally to double figures when making it 0-16 to 0-8 with a quick brace in the 57th and 59th minutes.
Kevin Brady whizzed a close-range free a yard over the crossbar in added-time, becoming just his side's third scorer of the afternoon. There was still time for Power to grab his second and for Wallace to round out the scoring in the sixth minute of overtime.
Fethard have to wait a while to find out who their next opponent will be, as the clash of Ardmore from Waterford and Donegal club Setanta, set for Navan on Sunday, was postponed.
The final is scheduled for Sunday, February 4, although that will be reliant on the weather improving to ensure that re-fixture can go ahead next weekend.
Fethard: Seán Foley; Daniel Mullan, Rúairí Tubrid, Martin Power; Richard Waters, Kevin Rowe, Joe Sutton (0-1); Garrett Foley (capt.), John Tubritt; Edmund Power (0-2), Mark Wallace (0-11, 9 frees, 1 '65), Daire Barden; Ciarán Dwyer (0-2), Darren Foley, Mikie Dwyer (0-2). Subs. - Bryan Power for D. Foley (53), Jesse Foley for C. Dwyer (60), Brian O'Donoghue for Tubritt (60+1), Jimmy Sutton for E. Power (60+4), also Conor O'Donoghue, John Rice, Christopher Molloy, Seán Sutton, Shane Tubrid, James Dillon, Ricky Rowe, Paul Foley, Kieran Furlong, Adam Swan, Danny Johnston.
Sylane: Ronan Costello; Kevin Moran, Michael Leonard, Brendan Mitchell (joint capt.); Stephen Burke, Cathal Burke, Andrew Cosgrove; Ryan Keane, Kevin Brady (0-1 free); Shane Glynn, Oran Martin (0-3), Adrian Lardner; Gary O'Neill, Paul Burke, Alan Cullinane (joint capt., 0-5 frees). Subs. - Seán Martin for Mitchell, temp. (22-25), Martin for Cosgrove (60+4), Brian O'Neill for G. O'Neill (60+4), Ross Monaghan for Keane (60+4).
Referee: Colum Cunning (Antrim).