In recent years, the little village of Ballyhea on the Cork-Limerick road has become associated with saying no.

A campaign to burn the bondholders has captured the imagination both nationally and internationally, with the ‘Ballyhea says no’ slogan gathering popularity, aided by a weekly march to raise awareness.

One thing Ballyhea has always said yes to was senior hurling and now, after 11 years away from the elite, they will again feast at the top grade in 2015. When the club re-graded to intermediate at the end of 2003, it was with the intention of coming back up when a talented crop of youngsters matured and, while it may have taken longer than expected, it was no less sweeter.

Those veterans of the U16 and minors wins in 2001 are now the core of the side, but, at the extreme ends of the age-spectrum, they had quality too. Neil Ronan, now 35, was off the field of play by the end after a late red card, but contributed well. The pretender to Ronan’s throne as Ballyhea’s attacking talisman is 19-year-old Pa O’Callaghan who was outstanding, five from play.

Centre-back Barry Coleman benefited from Newcestown withdrawing a forward deep and dominated from his berth, mopping up possession and arrowing deadly passes. At midfield, Maurice O’Sullivan combined hard work with nous and the full-forward line of John Morrissey, Gavin Morrissey and Eugene O’Leary combined for 1-7.

John Morrissey’s goal in the seventh minute, pouncing after Ronan’s sideline ball wasn’t claimed by Newcestown goalkeeper Kieran Kelly, provided a cushion which was never penetrated. The smallest lead they would possess would be two points after Tadhg Twomey pointed for Newcestown to make it 1-15 to 0-16 as the end neared. Even then, the Magpies didn’t look like being denied as no bona fide goal chance materialised for the Carbery side.

The sides had were level at 0-1 each until Morrissey’s goal and it had a perfect settling effect for Jimmy Quilty’s side. By the 17th minute they were 1-6 to 0-3 in front, Ronan producing some lovely touches in the build-up while O’Callaghan and O’Leary rounded off flowing moves. Overall, Ballyhea were crisper in their hurling and had a more coherent plan, with Newcestown frustrated at every avenue. Had the Ballyhea shooting been more accurate, then the outcome could have been decided in the first-half, but the wides mounted for them and three points in a row from Newcestown, Daniel Twomey and Eoin Kelly with frees and Conor O’Neill from play, threatened to make a game of it.



Ballyhea finished well, however. Gavin Morrissey scored with a brilliant effort from the right before Ronan got his second free and then O’Callaghan had his third of the half, to leave it 1-9 to 0-6 at the interval.

Carthach Keane managed to flick a Twomey free over for the opening score of the second-half but O’Callaghan – claiming a puckout after O’Neill slipped – had an instant response and that was largely the pattern of the second-half, Newcestown drawing slightly closer only for Ballyhea to keep them at arm’s length. A Newcestown goal was looking more and more essential and in the 46th minute, when they trailed by six, they got the a glimpse of a chance. Daniel Twomey picked out Keane with a perfect pass and the centre-forward made ground as the way opened up for him but full-back Michael Morrissey judged his block brilliantly and the danger receded.

When hard-working Newcestown midfielder Micheál McSweeney was fouled in the 52nd minute for a 20m free, Twomey opted to tap over to cut the gap to four but Ballyhea sub Eamon Morrissey pointed with his first touch after good work by Dean Copps and Ronan in the face of intense pressure.

That looked to have dashed any Newcestown hopes but Keane got his second point and then Ronan saw red for a strike on McSweeney, reacting following a shoulder-charge after he had been pulled for taking too many steps. Injected with new life, Newcestown came again through Daniel Twomey’s sixth point, a free, and then one from his brother, Tadhg.

Even then, though, Ballyhea showed little or no nerves. O’Callaghan saved his best point for last and when another sub, Eddie Rea, got in on the scoring act, the roar which greeted it indicated they knew senior hurling was inviting them back again

Scorers for Ballyhea: P O’Callaghan (0-5), J Morrissey (1-2), E O’Leary, N Ronan (3fs) (0-3 each), G Morrissey (0-2), E Morrissey, E Rea (0-1 each)

Scorers for Newcestown: D Twomey 0-6 (4fs, 1 65), E Kelly (0-3fs), T Twomey, C Keane (0-2 each), F Keane, T Horgan, C O’Neill (0-1 each)

BALLYHEA: M Browne; M Morrissey, O O’Sullivan, A O’Connor; J Hennessy, B Coleman, T Shanahan; M O’Sullivan, D Copps; K Morrissey, N Ronan, P O’Callaghan; J Morrissey, G Morrissey, E O’Leary. Subs: E Morrissey for K Morrissey (52), E Rea for Copps (59)

NEWCESTOWN: K Kelly; L O’Donovan, J Crowley, G O’Driscoll; D Heffernan, J Desmond, C O’Neill; M McSweeney, T Twomey; F Keane, E Kelly, L Meade; S Ryan, C Keane, D Twomey. Subs: G Murphy for O’Donovan (24), T Horgan for Ryan (34), J Meade for Kelly (36), C Twomey for Heffernan (45), C Healy for F Keane (55)

Referee: M Maher (St Finbarr’s)

Game-changer - Having had a slow start, Newcestown looked to be finding their feet as three points in a row meant they only trailed by 1-6 to 0-6. Ballyhea got the last three points before half-time to go in with a six-point advantage

Talk of the town -  Ballyhea enjoyed almost a quarter-century of senior hurling in their last stint up, but probably didn’t expect an 11-year wait to get back to the senior ranks. They will be keen to show that the hiatus was too long

Did that just happen? - While he lined out in midfield, Newcestown’s Micheál McSweeney carried the No 2 on his back.

Best on show - Pa O’Callaghan’s hurling was never in doubt and now, with a big physique to match, he showcased all the aspects of his game in a positive fashion.

Sideline superior - Despite Newcestown playing with a forward roaming deep, Ballyhea held their shape and centre-back Barry Coleman reaped the rewards.

The man in black - The biggest call Mark Maher had to make was with regard to Neil Ronan’s red card; there could be no complaints about it.

What’s next? - Ballyhea have a clash with the Kerry senior champions Lixnaw in the Munster Club IHC.

Report by Denis Hurley ( Irish Examiner)


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