Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-19, Slaughtneil 1-17
Slaughtneil's bid for a first AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship hurling final came up agonisingly short as two goals from Billy O'Keeffe secured victory for Waterford champions Ballygunner in a thrilling semi-final on Sunday.
A goal at the start of each half failed to quell the Emmet's battling spirit but they were left with too much to do despite a fine first half performance. Considering that this Ballygunner team was liberally sprinkled with county players, Slaughtneil can be proud of their efforts but that will be small consolation for Mickey McShane's men..
Ballygunner will now play the holders Ballyhale Shamrock’s in the final after a sensational goal from an injury time T. J Reid free gave the Shamrock’s a fortunate 2-15 to 0-20 victory.
The eight-in-a-row Waterford champions, who blew Limerick's Kilallock away in the Munster final, had to dig deeper this time with O'Keefe's goals, struck at the beginning of both halves, proving crucial. They had lost in their three previous semi finals but Dessie Hutchinson, Mikey and Kevin Mahony all struck important points too.
Ballygunner got on top in the third quarter and opened up a seven-point lead at one stage but were undermined by wides - nine in the second-half and 15 in total - as Slaughtneil reduced the deficit to four on two occasions in the final quarter. Shane McGuigan's stoppage time goal for Slaughtneil offered a glimmer of hope but Ballygunner held on with Kevin Mahony wrapping up the scoring.
It's another painful All-Ireland semi-final defeat for Slaughtneil who also lost out to eventual champions Ballyhale at this stage in early 2020 by the same margin. Ballygunner approached the encounter as almost unbackable favourites and hinted initially that they would cover the seven-point handicap placed upon them by bookmakers with ease.
With just four minutes on the clock they led by 1-02 to no score and were pulling the Slaughtneil defence about with their slick hurling and perfectly timed passes. Slaughtneil deployed Gerald Bradley as their seventh defender, Ballygunner responding by leaving joint-captain Philip Mahony in a free role at the other end but it was Ballygunner who sprung form the traps first.
Conor Sheahan and Kevin Mahony sniped points before O'Keeffe, who struck 2-03 in total, was picked out by a clever Peter Hogan pass on the left of goals and struck to the net.
It seemed all so easy for Ballygunner who put together one outrageous attacking move in the sixth minute that almost resulted in one of the goals of the championship. Hutchinson began it with a pass to Kevin Mahony who found Hogan with a clever pass down into the ground that bounced up kindly. Hutchinson had continued a looping run back towards goal and was picked out by Hogan but his eye-catching volley was brilliantly saved by Slaughtneil keeper Oisin O'Doherty.
The Derry men could have been overawed by such expansive and free-flowing play but dug in and responded impressively with points from Cormac O'Doherty, Brendan Rogers and Brian Cassidy.
Sweeper Bradley emerged as an influential player for Slaughtneil and helped tighten things up at the back, fetching one great ball from the air and beginning a move that ended with Jerome McGuigan scoring.
Rogers had an interesting head to head with Ballygunner full-back and joint-captain Barry Coughlan, the Emmet's dual star hitting four points but when the winners double teamed him his
space was cut out to a large degree. Rogers edged the contest in the first-half and scored two points while Se McGuigan got in on the scoring act too, leaving Slaughtneil trailing by just 0-09 to 1-08 at half-time and by no means out of the running.
Ballygunner began the second-half in similar fashion, with a Conor Sheahan point and an O'Keeffe goal, Kevin Mahony this time supplying the pass for the three-pointer, and they now led 2-09 to 0-09. Pauric Mahony was errant on the frees though, striking three in a row wide at one stage, and it prevented Ballygunner from forging further ahead.
As it was, they led 2-13 to 0-12 at the second water break but were on top and dominant from Slaughtneil's puck-outs so should have capitalised more. It almost came back to haunt them too as Slaughtneil fought back bravely with four points in a row immediately after the water break, two more from the excellent Rogers.
They needed a goal, however, and it didn't arrive until stoppage time when it was ultimately too late as the 'Gunners' held on with back to back Hutchinson points late on proving hugely important. Over the hour Slaughtneil created three goal chances but got jut one. For Ballygunner it was two majors from three chances.
Ballygunner: Stephen O'Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley; Shane O'Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power; Conor Sheahan (0-02), Paddy Leavey; Pauric Mahony (0-02, 0-02f), Mikey Mahony (0-01), Peter Hogan (0-03); Dessie Hutchinson (0-04), Kevin Mahony (0-04), Billy O';Keeffe (2-03, 0-01f). Subs: None.
Slaughtneil: Oisin O'Doherty; Karl McKaigue, Sean Cassidy, Paul McNeill; Gerald Bradley; Meehaul McGrath, Conor McAllister, Shane McGuigan (1-00); Cormac O'Doherty (0-07, 0-06f), Christopher McKaigue; Se McGuigan (0-01), Jerome McGuigan (0-02); Mark McGuigan, Brendan Rogers (0-04), Brian Cassidy (0-03). Subs: Peadar Kearney for S Cassidy 50mins, Jack Cassidy for M McGuigan 53mins.
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin).