Ballyvarley sweep the champions-elect aside in a stunning 10-point victory.

November 8, 2018

Senior Hurling League Div.2
Ballyvarley  1-14  Ballycran 1-4
In the most important game played in Ballyvarley for many years, Ballyvarley Senior hurlers took on Ballycran in a virtual league decider and produced a performance that will live long in the memory. In a display of sheer passion and unmatched commitment, it was Ballyvarley who swept the champions-elect aside in a stunning 10-point victory that decided this top of the table clash and left the Reds just two games away from an elusive league trophy.
The scene was set, the crowd were tense and, when Hugh Pat McCusker threw the ball in for the clash of the ash, this epic game exploded into an action-packed thriller that enthralled the crowd until the dying moments. Straight from the throw-in Ballycran made their intentions clear when they cut through the centre of the Reds defence before spraying the ball wide to the left corner forward, who then cut the ball back for the inrushing forwards to lash to the back of the Reds net. The move was fast and clinical and was meant to send an ominous signal for the home side’s title ambitions but Ballyvarley don’t seem to do panic these days and for the next fifty nine minutes the Reds defence covered itself in all the glory as Ballyvarley swept to a convincing victory. Ballycran never registered another score in that half and despite all their second half pressure, they struggled to eek out a miserly four points from the Red’s superb rearguard. 
Gradually, Ballyvarley established a firm control in defence and dominance in midfield and as Ballycran were forced to foul the marauding home forwards, Paul O’Neill punished them accordingly with a display of unerring free-taking. Two O’Neill frees edged Ballyvarley back into the game and then Conor McClorey and David McGovern combined to put Eunan McConville through for the equalising point. Another O’Neill free give the Reds a lead they were never to lose and minutes later he soloed in from the wing to tap over his first point from play to open up a telling two point lead.
It was stirring, competitive hurling but Ballycran’s hurried shooting under tremendous Ballyvarley pressure failed to raise another flag before the interval. Instead, O’Neill converted another long-range free and in a frenzied goalmouth scramble Eunan McConville forced the ball home at the far post and suddenly the Reds had the commanding lead that their slick play had deserved.
Half time:  Ballyvarley 1-6   Ballycran  1-0
On the restart, with their league title slipping away, Ballycran visibly raised the tempo but the Ballyvarley response was immediate with fast, first time hurling and bone-crunching tackling being the order of the day. Some of the clashes were spectacular but fair as the crowd were treated to a full-blooded hurling contest between two strong, committed teams.
            Ballycran opened up with a point but David McGovern sent over a quick reply before Paul O’Neill was hauled down and he sent the resulting free over the bar to increase the lead to seven. Two more points from Ballycran marked a period of intense pressure from the visitors but again O’Neill replied with a minor score for the Reds. A fourth point from Ballycran in the fortieth minute brought the scoring spree to an end and Ballyvarley endured a spell of prolonged Ballycran pressure that yielded the visitors absolutely nothing. Time and again bodies were thrown in the way to block goal bound shots as the home defenders gave a gripping display of immense personal courage. Then in the forty eighth minute the pressure was relieved when the Reds broke up-field and Martin O’Neill pounced on a lose ball to fire over the bar and break the spell of Ballycran dominance.
It was Ballyvarley’s turn to test the strong Ballycran defence and in this tough, physical game, they resorted to hauling down the free-running James McGrath, Martin O’Neill and James McDermott and up stepped Paul O’Neill to punish each indiscretion and put the game out of the visitors reach. The final score was a little gem. Paul O’Neill took a short sideline to the quick-thinking James McDermott who coolly drove it over the bar to a cap a brilliant personal performance by the young midfielder. When Hugh Pat blew the final whistle to bring a memorable contest to an end, Ballycran were shocked and despondent while the Reds were surprised with the margin of victory and knew that victory in their last two games would see the league title making a welcome return to Ballyvarley.
In a memorable Ballyvarley performance, Cathal O’Neill had another brilliant game in the Reds goal and the whole defence, of Thomas Lennon, Niall Higgins, John O’Neill, Sean Kennedy, Colm O’Neill, David Lavery and Stephen Daly, were inspired and took most of the honours from this game. The tireless running of young midfielders Conor McClorey and James McDermott kept the ball rolling forward where the physical presence of James McGrath, Martin O’Neill and Conor Grew was a key element in winning hard-earned possession for Paul O’Neill, Eunan McConville and David McGovern to get the vital scores. Next Wednesday Ballyvarley are at home to Warrenpoint in their penultimate league game and will be hoping to cement their challenge at the top of the table.
A delighted team manager, Gerard O’Neill summed it up in one word “brilliant!” “I can’t remember seeing a better performance in my time as player or manager. The tackling and defensive play was stunning. You ask players to go out there and give it all – but when they virtually put their life on the line for the cause then I am absolutely humbled…. Now it is vital not to let this advantage slip away in our last two league games against Warrenpoint and Clonduff”
Final Score:   Ballyvarley  1-14   Ballycran  1-4
Team:  Cathal O’Neill; Thomas Lennon, Niall Higgins, John O’Neill; Sean Kennedy, Colm O’Neill, David Lavery; Conor McClorey, James McDermott(0-1);
Martin O’Neill(0-1), James McGrath, Conor Grew; David McGovern(0-1),
Paul O’Neill(0-10), Eunan McConville(1-1).
Subs: Stephen Daly for Sean Kennedy, Colin O’Neill, James McConville,
          Niall Savage, Gavin McGreevey, Martin Connolly, Jamie Murray,
         Cathal McGrath, Sean O’Neill