Tony Kelly’s goal proved decisive in this hard hitting senior hurling championship first round game as both sides laid down markers with their direct opponents.
Clare Senior Hurling Championship Round 1
Ballyea 1-16 Wolfe Tones 0-12
Torrential rain made for slippery conditions causing a number of wides during a tense opening period. Having said that, both teams produced more action than much of the triple header the previous day.
Ben O’Gorman was forced to sit out the game for Wolfe Tones following a one match suspension carried over from last year. After a nervy start Ballyea had struck three wides as opposed to a single miss by the Shannon men.
A superb cross-field pass from Daithi O’Connell set up Aron Shanagher to open the scoring on ten minutes. Pearse Lillis had the freedom of the park for the All Ireland club finalists but it was Tony Kelly who settled nerves after a deft Martin O’Leary lay off.
Kelly’s point was quickly added to by Damien Burke. A huge speculative effort from Aaron Cunningham went over the bar after overplay on Ballyea’s part. At this juncture Wolfe Tones were defending well helped in no small measure by Ballyea overplaying the ball.
Rory Hayes did a decent job in shadowing Tony Kelly, indeed there were similar battles between Jack Browne and Shanagher and Brian Carrig and Kevin McCafferty. Gearoid O’Connell was effective in neutralising Shanagher’s goal threat. Meanwhile Niall Deasy, Shanagher (2) and Kelly all raised white flags by the 25th minute as the sides were level on 0-8 apiece.
A booming long range point from Gary Brennan gave Ballyea the advantage. Great play from O’Connell, Carrig and Kelly set up Pat Joe Connolly who scored in the 27th minute as Wolfe Tones struggled to make an impression on the scoreboard.
Aron Shanagher converted a free on the stroke of half time to leave Wolfe Tones adrift by 0-6 to 0-5.
Ballyea’s opening score of the new half was set up by Paul Flanagan and Gary Brennan but finished by Stan Lineen. This was quickly added to by Tony Kelly to send last year’s champions three points clear.
Aron Shanagher responded with two frees for Wolfe Tones by the 37th minute. Likewise, two Niall Deasy frees towards the end of the third quarter gave Ballyea a deserved 0-10 to 0-7 lead. Aaron Cunningham and Shanagher narrowed the gap to the minimum with 13 minutes left.
An immediate response by Stan Lineen gave Ballyea breathing space as extra time now appeared a possibility. Niall Deasy and Aaron Cunningham swopped points before Ballyea added the goal that effectively settled the game. The ball came to Tony Kelly who took off down along the CBS sideline before cutting in to rifle the sliotar low and hard past Pa Freeman to open up a five point lead.
Niall Deasy made it six clear before Aron Shanagher came close from a free that was deflected out for a 65. Aaron Cunningham sent it over for a point.
Ballyea almost had a second goal when Gary Brennan was inches wide when his overhead flick flashed narrowly past the Shannon goal.
A Shanagher pointed free for Wolfe Tones was matched by Pat Joe Connolly but Deasy followed up with two scores. The game petered to a finish giving Ballyea a comfortable win in the end.
Best for the county champions were Brian Carrig, Jack Browne, Pat Joe Connolly, Gearoid O’Connell, Tony Kelly, Stan Lineen, Niall Deasy, Kevin Sheehan and Gary Brennan.
Wolfe Tones will have a busy year ahead and will certainly learn from this setback. Their best on the day included Aaron Cunningham, Aron Shanagher, Kevin McCafferty, Daithi O’Connell, Pa Freeman and Rory Hayes.