Pauric Mahony shot eleven points as Ballygunner withstood a late rally from Na Piarsaigh at the TUS Gaelic Grounds on Sunday evening and advanced to the Munster club final (0-16 to 1-9).
The former Waterford attacker got thirteen points in this fixture twelve months ago and turned in another man of the match performance for Darragh O'Sullivan's men. Wing back Ronan Power also starred with two points from play while Mikey Mahony put in a massive shift all over the pitch.
The Gunners led by eight points with nine minutes left but Na Piarsaigh made them sweat for victory. Adrian Breen whipped home a last minute goal to leave just three between them. Stephen O'Keeffe then denied David Dempsey from close range. Mikey Mahony relieved the pressure when he won a free which older brother Pauric converted. Another Mahony sibling Philip made a mighty catch deep into injury time to set up a Munster final meeting with Clonlara early next month.
Ballygunner won the toss but joint captain Stephen O'Keeffe chose to play against the breeze in the first half. Five Pauric Mahony placed balls put them 7-6 to the good at the break.
Dessie Hutchinson was denied two goals early on. In the third minute, a low shot was shovelled away for a 65 by Shane Dowling. Three minutes later, the Ballygunner number ten was thwarted by Mike Casey.
Mahony got Ballygunner on the scoreboard with a first minute free. The ace marksman added two more from dead balls before wing back Ronan Power made it 4-2 after fourteen minutes. David Dempsey was then stopped in his tracks by the Ballygunner defence after Will O'Donoghue picked him out. Dowling then set up a point for Adrian Breen. Two more Mahony frees and one from Dessie Hutchinson opened up a 7-3 advantage for the defending champions.
The Limerick winners registered the last three points of the half (all from Ronan Lynch). All Star midfielder Will O'Donoghue also made an inspirational catch in injury time. As the half time whistle sounded, Kevin Mahony crashed into Vince Harrington and a row broke out in front of the Mackey Stand. Both management teams went in to break it up.
Shane O'Sullivan and Peter Casey received yellow cards for their part in the scuffle before the second half started. On 36 minutes, Shane Dowling denied Ronan Power. Ballygunner's third goal chance of the evening. Mahony converted the subsequent 65 to send the away side 9-6 ahead. Ronan Lynch's fifth placed ball narrowed the gap to two.
The Gunners were guilty of five wides in the third quarter but the ten in a row Waterford champions kept their composure. The men in black and red rattled off six points without reply. Dessie Hutchinson, Pauric Mahony, Ronan Power and Harry Ruddle all raised white flags as they moved eight clear (0-15 to 0-7).
Breen's late goal made it nervy but Darragh O'Sullivan's charges held on. The Gunners will go for a record breaking three Munster titles in a row against the Clare champions in two weeks' time.