Hard work of Hogues rewarded
Permanent TSB Junior A Hurling Championship Final: Ballyhogue 2-10 Naomh Eanna 0-9
After working so hard to get there in the first place, Ballyhogue made the most of the opportunity to succeed when they produced a fine all-round team performance to see off Naomh Eanna's second string with seven points to spare in the Permanent TSB Junior 'A' hurling championship final in Bellefield on Sunday.
The Enniscorthy District side had required a late smash and grab raid to beat the same opponents on their last appearance in a decider - in the lower Junior 'B' grade - seven years ago.
On that occasion they made a remarkable recovery from trailing by 2-9 to 0-5 after 44 minutes to win by 2-13 to 2-10, but it was a bit more straightforward this time around.
Ballyhogue had a lot of the hard work done by half-time when they led by 1-5 to 0-5 after playing against the wind and, although Naomh Eanna made them earn the win, the Gorey side lacked the accuracy to secure this particular crown for the first time since 2014.
The key score in breaking their resistance arrived in the 38th minute when, with Ballyhogue leading by 1-6 to 0-7, Cian Wickham latched on to a loose ball on the right flank of the attack and drove a perfect finish across netminder Ross Murphy and into the far corner of the net.
There was no stopping the 'Hogues thereafter, and they were even able to overcome the loss of netminder Niall Maher with a shoulder injury as 48-year-old player/selector Denis 'Kojak' Kennedy stepped in to the breach.
Himself and Maher, along with staunch full-back Eddie Galavan, had played when the club won the Junior 'B' title in 2004, while Kennedy, Galavan, Seán Rochford, Shane Byrne, Shane Roche and Graham Parker had all featured on the field in that previous triumph in 2012.
A youthful Parker had come off the bench on that occcasion to land three priceless points from play, and his accuracy was crucial once more on Sunday as the team's joint captain ended with a haul of eight, all bar one from frees.
The wides count of eleven for Naomh Eanna and just four for Ballyhogue told its own story, with the unfortunate Gearóid Cullen accounting for nine of those misses, including four from play.
The sides were level twice in a low-scoring first quarter, with the lively Ronan Minogue drawing first blood for Ballyhogue before Cullen replied from his second free.
The latter's delivery into the danger zone was turned over the bar by veteran Michael Bernie in the eleventh minute, with a pull by Peter Kelly going narrowly wide at the other end before Parker levelled after a free was brought forward for dissent.
Cullen restored Gorey's lead from a free, but the first big breakthrough for their rivals arrived in the 17th minute, mere seconds after the Ballyhogue mentors had made an astute positional switch.
Peter Kelly's first involvement after moving from right half-forward to the edge of the square was to pluck a Shane Byrne delivery from the air and dispatch it to the net for a 1-2 to 0-3 lead.
Ballyhogue were never headed thereafter, and Parker followed up quickly with his sole point from play after a good lay-off by Enda Minogue, who had moved to right wing-forward.
Two Gearóid Cullen points, the first from play, left the minimum separating them after 24 minutes, but the leaders enjoyed a superior finish to the half as Parker (free) and Cian Wickham left them with a 1-5 to 0-5 interval lead.
After losing four semi-finals and two quarter-finals since that Junior 'B' triumph in 2012, Ballyhogue were in no mood to waste this shot at glory.
However, they were made earn it, particular by the Naomh Eanna joint captains as John O'Brien maintained his consistency at full-back while Joseph O'Connor worked his socks off at midfield after the break.
Still, the eventual losers' second-half haul of just four points into the wind was a reflection of the strength of their rivals' defence, with young guns Fionn Rochford and Colm Parnell doing very well in the corners.
Naomh Eanna did give them plenty to think about in the early stages, as points from Joseph O'Connor and Gearóid Cullen (free) reduced the gap to 1-5 to 0-7 by the 37th minute.
A Graham Parker free from 90 metres after a foul on Peter Hughes settled his charges, and they never looked back after Cian Wickham - operating in the right corner since the start of the second quarter - drove home that second goal to make it 2-6 to 0-7.
Cullen and Parker swapped scores from frees in between the loss of Maher between the Ballyhogue posts, and Gorey didn't register again after William Cullen made it 2-7 to 0-9 from an Eoin McGuckin handpass in the 50th minute.
Cullen and Seamus O'Donnell did combine to create a goal chance for corner-forward Jack Doran, but the lion-hearted Eddie Galavan - captain for the Junior 'B' triumphs of 2004 and 2012 - came out of nowhere to make a block.
That was that for Gorey, although Gearóid Cullen did have two speculative goal attempts from frees saved by Denis Kennedy as the new number one grew into his role after being pressed unexpectedly into service.
The last three Ballyhogue points all arrived from Graham Parker frees, and he joined forces with fellow joint captain Seán Rochford to accept the trophy from their club Secretary, Cathal Byrne, who is also the Co. Development Officer.
It was a stop-start affair for the most part, with the grand total of 40 frees awarded, 21 for the victors.
Ballyhogue: Niall Maher; Fionn Rochford, Eddie Galavan, Colm Parnell; Peter Hughes, Seán Rochford (joint capt.), Conor Byrne; James Parle, Graham Parker (joint capt., 0-8, 7 frees); Peter Kelly (1-0), Shane Byrne, Dylan Dalton; Enda Minogue, Cian Wickham (1-1), Ronan Minogue (0-1). Subs. - Denis Kennedy for Maher, inj. (46), Shane Roche for Wickham (60+3), also Denis Leacy, Seán Ring, Shane Doyle, John Kehoe, Mick Parker, Liam Rossiter, Jim Bob Levingstone, Edward Byrne, Kevin Ring, Cian Rochford, Enda Byrne, Shane Fenlon, Noel Roche, Cian Rodgers, David Byrne.
Naomh Eanna: Ross Murphy; Simon Doran, John O'Brien (joint capt.), Shane Crosbie; Nathan Byrne, Lee Kinsella, Evan O'Dwyer; Joseph O'Connor (joint capt., 0-1), Seamus O'Donnell; John Doyle, Gearóid Cullen (0-6, 5 frees), Seán Delaney; Michael Bernie (0-1), William Cullen (0-1), Jack Doran. Subs. - Eoin McGuckin for Bernie (40), Dara McDonald for Doyle (40), Seán Dowling for S. Doran (60+1), also Darragh Canavan, Aaron Byrne, Micheál Kennedy, Larry Cullen, Patrick Dwyer, Eoghan Kennedy, Ian Parle, Martin O'Donnell, Mikey Cushe, Joe Comerford.
Referee: Brian O'Leary (Crossabeg-Ballymurn).