Newmarket set about ensuring there would be no repeat of their embarrassing relegation battle in 2017 when they set about ending Ballyea’s reign as champions.

Clare Senior Hurling Championship Quarter Final Newmarket 1-16 Ballyea 1-12 by Michael O’Connor.

Ballyea have struggled in this year’s championship, this was epitomised when they just about managed to stumble over the line against O’Callaghans Mills in the previous round when they won by the minimum. On the day, supporters were eagerly looking forward to the clash, this year Newmarket are led once again by Bob Enright and he has put together a strong local team of coaches and selectors in Pat Freeman, Tom McNamara, Kevin Halpin and Eoin Marren.

Newmarket goal scorer Ronan Good strikes the ball to the net

Newmarket goal scorer Ronan Good strikes the ball to the net

In the final analysis, however, Fergal Hegarty’s side’s reign as proud Clare and Munster senior club hurling champions was brought concluded at Cusack Park and they can have few complaints as Newmarket were undoubtedly the better side on the day. The Blues seemed to be much better balanced as they dominated in the wings and corner during this, the third game of a tripleheader played at Clare headquarters.

Ballyea entered this contest with key players Tony Kelly and Gearóid O’Connell carrying injuries. Still, the champions failed to put their stamp on proceedings or to match the determination of Enright’s side.  Both sides cancelled each other out for quite awhile after the throw-in and it took until the 12th minute before Ballyea opened the scoring.
In a low-scoring opening quarter, Ballyea opened a four-point lead thanks to a Niall Deasy goal following a defensive blunder by the eventual winners.  It was the only time in the game that Newmarket faltered as, to a man, they out in a solid team performance before dark clouds began to close in on Cusack Park.

As expected, both Colin Ryan and Niall Deasy were the key sharpshooters for their respective teams. Had it not been for Deasy’s effort, Ballyea did not have another scorer of note.
This wasn’t a game for the faint-hearted and a number of hard-hitting exchanges were witnessed especially in the first half leaving both sides fortunate to retain a full complement of 15 players on the field at the halftime whistle. One crucial passage of play that determined the final result was packed into the final five minutes of the first half when the winners struck for 1-3 to neutralise Ballyea’s endeavour over the previous 25 minutes.

Ronan Goode was Newmarket’s goal scorer after he switched into the full forward line.  A paucity of scoring options in the Ballyea forward division was central to their downfall as they did produce chances to win the game but proved unable to find a way through a well drilled Newmarket rearguard. Both sides exchanged points throughout the second half although Newmarket was always in front and in general control of matters between the half-back lines.

Colin Ryan breaks clear of Ballyea’s Stan Lineen, Gearóid O’Connell and Pearse Lillis.

Colin Ryan breaks clear of Ballyea’s Stan Lineen, Gearóid O’Connell and Pearse Lillis.

It must be acknowledged that even though Newmarket was the better side overall, they still left Ballyea in with a chance up until the final moments.  Just two minutes from time, the champions won a penalty when Niall Deasy was fouled. Unfortunately for them, Tony Kelly continued his poor run of penalties, though that should take nothing from Newmarket goalie Ronan McCormack who produced an excellent save from the Clare star.

Moments later Ballyea surrendered their title and this is as Close as the black and amber will get to the last four of the Clare senior hurling championship in 2017. With the old guard back on the line and a much better team performance, Newmarket will not fear Sixmilebridge in the semi-final. For their part, Ballyea will need to get more players who focus full-time on hurling if they are to avoid becoming a one-year champion.

Newmarket; Ronan McCormack; Eoin O’Brien, James McInerney, Shane Kelleher; Niall O’Connor, Enda Barrett, Evan Keogh; Ronan Goode (1-2), Sean O’Connor; Stephen Kelly, Colin Ryan (0-9), Mike McInerney (0-3), Shane O’Brien (0-2), Martin O’Hanlon, Eoin Hayes.Subs: Colin Guilfoyle for O’Hanlon, Shane O’Brien (Jnr) for Mike McInerney.

Ballyea; Kevin Sheehan; Joe Neylon, Jack Browne, Brian Carrig; Paul Flanagan, Gearoid O’Connell, James Murphy, Tony Kelly (0-2), Stan Lineen; Niall Deasy (1-8), Mark Coughlan, Pearce Lillis (0-1), Eoghan Donnellan, Gary Brennan (0-1), Tadhg Lynch.Subs: Martin O’Leary for Coughlan, Aonghus Keane for Lynch Referee: Ger Hoey (Killanena)

When the draw for the semi-final of this year’s Canon Hamilton Cup was made, the first names out were those of long-time rivals Newmarket-on-Fergus and Sixmilebridge. The other semi-final pitches Clonlara against Clooney Quin. In the intermediate championship, Kilmaley will take on Parteen while Smith O’Briens are matched against Tubber. Feakle has been relegated from the senior ranks for next year after they suffered a 1-21 to 0-11 defeat at the hands of Clarecastle much to the relief of the many faithful Magpies.