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Ballygunner blow past Kilmallock to lift third Munster title

The juggernaut rolls on and it’s going to take a serious outfit of gunslingers to stop it rolling down the tracks.

Ballygunner have lifted the O’ Neill cup for the third time in Pairc Uí Chaoimh with the Limerick Champions left decimated in the process.

By the time the final whistle was blown, Darragh O’ Sullivan’s men had hit 3.20 and made it look easy in the process.

The game opened up with Kilmallock scoring the first two points through Graeme Mulcahy and Robbie Hanley which made it seem like we were in for a thriller on Leeside, but those notions were quickly dismissed as Ballygunner shook off the Christmas turkey and got down to work.

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Dessie Hutchinson opened the scoring for the Gunners from a very tight angle with Pauric Mahony knocking over the first of his five frees moments later to take the lead; a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Hutchinson set the tone of his performance early on when Pauric Mahony sent a ball through in front of the goalmouth which Hutchinson scooped up, found a yard of space, and drilled it past Barry Hennessy to the back of the net.

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It could have been two goals in as many minutes if it wasn’t for Hennessy who made amends for the previous three-pointer when he stopped Hutchinson on this occasion.

By the first half water break, the Gunners were rampant, leading the game 1.06 to 0.3 with Tony Considine’s team struggling to get any momentum.

Kilmallock began the second quarter in the same vein as they had started the first with Michael Houlihan striking over in the 19th minute.

Kilmallock needed some kind of fire lit under them as the first half was drawing to a close, but it wasn’t to be – aside from Kevin O Donnell who pointed approaching the break to make it 1.09 – 0.5.

Peter Hogan would get the last point of the first half which exemplified the approach they had taken in the first half – a break down in play in the middle of the field saw the ball break loose with Hogan securing it in the palm of his hand and knocking it over from the halfway line.

Ballygunner went to the changing rooms nine points to the better of Kilmallock (1.11 – 0.05).

When the referee resumed the play by the Lee, the game was nearly over already. Hutchinson, again, would not be denied as he opened the scoring with two back-to-back points to take an 11 point lead.

In reality, they were in cruise control at this point with every ball going to hand and every man finding the needed yard of space.

When the 36th minute beckoned, Kilmallock were hearing the death knell as Pauirc Mahony launched the ball into the goalmouth, the Kilmallock defender Liam English was scrambling to get to it, but Kevin Mahony pounced and pulled on the ball while he was falling to the ground. Even though he was not set for the ball, he managed to guide it into the back of the net to make it 2.13 - 0.5. Kilmallock were absent from the scoresheet in the second half with 7 minutes played.

Billy O Keefe added insult to injury with a point moments later to extend the scoreline further.

Kilmallock had a sight-on goal shortly after, with Graeme Mulcahy bearing down on Stephen O Keefe but Barry Coughlan did what he needed to do and offered up the free to deny the chance at three points. Kevin O Donnell knocked over the ensuing free for their first score of the second half in the 38th minute.

Another chance at goal followed seconds later, but the breaking ball was well handled by the Ballygunner defence to yet again snuff out any chance that the Limerick champions had to reduce the deficit.

The near-final nail was driven into the coffin in the with 20 minutes left to play as Tadhg Foley went on a charging run down the right flank - he struck for goal, but Hennessy stood tall to stop it reaching the net - it was all for naught though as Billy O Keefe was there for the deflected shot, and he calmly slotted it into the goal; 3.14 – 0.6. As Tomás McCarthy has said on WLR’s commentary “Game over, ball burst”.

Kilmallock got back-to-back points for the first time since the start of the game - in the 42nd minute - when Conor Hanley and  Oisin O Reilly struck over, but it was consolation territory at that point.

Kilmallock started to string together some tidy play approaching the second-half water break, with Gavin O Mahony bursting down the right-wing. He sent a ball in towards the goalmouth with Conor Hanley doubling on it while on the run in an immense display of skill, but O' Keefe wasn't going to allow it past him. Peter Hogan's point seconds later only served to deflate the almost resurgent Kilmallock.

A fifteen-point advantage at the second-half water break (3.15 – 0.09) allowed the Gunners the comfort of a stroll to the finish line, but they were far from taking their foot off the gas.

Kilmallock were allowed a couple of scores with Robbie Hanley pointing and Ciaran O Connor getting back-to-back scores, but the tide really was flowing in one direction as Hutchinson was able to lose his defender with ease to make it 3.17 – 0.11.

Pauric Mahony's point in the 51st minute was similarly an example of what had been going so well for Darragh O Sullivan's men all day. A Kilmallock puck out missed every Limerick man, and Mahony was there in the right place at the right time to gather it and shoot with ease for his seventh point of the day.

Much like his teammates in the full-forward line, Stephen O Keefe was offered another chance to show his quality when Conor Hanley went for goal from a tight angle, but the former Deise shot-stopper made his third point-blank save of the day; making it look routine in the process.

Mistakes were few and far between. While it was January hurling and not the ideal time of the year for the game to be played, the Gunners rarely put a foot wrong - the fact that Kilmallock only had one wide in the second half tells enough of the tale. They simply weren't given the chance to put scores on the board.

Conor Hanley claimed a consolation goal in extra time to make the scoreboard look a bit more respectable at 3.20 - 1.11, but the celebrations had already begun on the sideline for the Gunners.

Black and red ribbons were being tied to the O’ Neil cup in the stand and as the full-time whistle sounded in a grey and drizzly Pairc Uí Chaoimh, it was celebration time for Darragh O’ Sullivan and Ballygunner. They were back at the summit of Munster hurling for the first time since 2018, and now have the chance at going one step further to a place no Waterford team has gone before.

Slaughtneil of Derry await in the All-Ireland semi-final in Parnell Park, but if they’re to stop this train from hurtling down the track; they’re going to need to bring their six-shooter.

Full-Time Score from Páirc Uí Chaoimh 3.20 - 1.12.

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