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2012 North Intermediate Hurling Semi-Final

posted 24 Sept 2012, 13:00 by Unknown user
Ballina 1-16
Ballinahinch 1-13
Reported by Shane Brophy in Nenagh 
Stritch guides Ballina into Intermediate final.  
Ballina withstood a late rally from Ballinahinch to book their place in the North Tipperary Intermediate Hurling Championship final for the fourth time in eight years on Saturday evening. The lakeside club have yet to win the Fr Hewitt Cup in their history but they might feel their time could be upon them having seen off the stiff challenge of their neighbours Ballinahinch in this wellcontested semi-final. Leading by seven points going into the final quarter, Ballina appeared set to ease into the final but Ballinahinch produced a mighty comeback, reducing the arrears to one point in added time but Ballina held their nerve to hit the matchclinching scores to set up a final meeting with Silvermines.  
Ballina came up from Junior ‘A’ grade in 1996 and 16 years on, Brian Stritch is still producing performances of high quality and in an attacking sense, his team-mates owe him a lot for this victory. While he contributed nine points of his sides total, his ball winning ability from right wing forward was crucial as any time Ballina needed possession from a puckout, the ball was delivered in his direction with both John Ryan and Ger Grace struggling to curb his influence. Stephen Stritch had a big second half as did David Hickey who did superbly well to score the all-important goal which gave them the cushion they needed. Defensively, Ballina were also dominant, bar the fifteen minute period at the end of the game in which Ballinahinch made their valiant comeback, coinciding with Shane McGrath’s relocation from centre back to centre forward. Rody Kennedy and Pat Cosgrove were excellent in the full back line while the half back line of Thomas Collins, Jerry O’Brien and minor star Michael Breen were forceful on the ball and time and again cut out Ballinahinch attacks. Martin McKeogh was sharp between the posts and needed to be.  
Ballinahinch’s shortcomings in attack ultimately proved to be their undoing, particularly with Ger Griffen being kept quiet while John Foley’s best work was done away from goal. The loss of centre forward Adrian Kelly, who failed to recover from a knee injury was a major blow. Brendan Healy and Kevin Mulcahy were busy in midfield while Ballinahinch’s defenders did all they could with Shane McGrath superb at centre back. Ger Grace was also the fore while full back Alan Kelly was dominant at full back with Marcus Ryan and Michael Fitzgerald also playing well. Ballina were off the mark inside thirty seconds with Brian Stritch converting his first free after Eoin Kent was fouled.
Ballinahinch were level within a minute with Brendan Healy punishing a sloppy clearance from Sean Collins with John Foley edging his side in front in the third minute, running onto a raking clearance from Shane McGrath. Ballina levelled through a Brian Stritch 65 after his attempt for a goal from a 21-yard free was turned around the post by Cormac McGrath. Kevin Cosgrove edged Ballina in front in the seventh minute before his side survived a minute later with Martin McKeogh saving from Brendan Ryan with Liam Berkery failing to connect fully on the rebound as it rolled wide. Ballinahinch were the livelier side early on but they were not turning it into scores plus they were indisciplined in defence as Ballina stretched three clear by the 18th minute with two frees from Brian Stritch. Shane McGrath responded with a superb point from a long range before the Ballina goal survived again with Pat Cosgrove making a brave block to deny Ger Griffen with Martin McKeogh stranded from his posts. Kevin Mulcahy followed with a long range free to leave the minimum between the teams after 21 minutes. Cormac McGrath came to Ballinahinch’s rescue two minutes later saving from TJ O’Connell with Brian Stritch pointing from the follow-up. He added a second 65 to restore the three-point lead which was wiped out a minute from half time when a long delivery from John Foley dropped in the square with Liam Berkery getting the vital touch to divert it past the despairing Martin McKeogh. There was five minutes added time played due to various stoppages and it allowed Brian Stritch and Kevin Cosgrove to give Ballina a 0-9 to 1-4 lead at the break. David Hickey and Ger Griffen traded points at the start of the second half with Ballina slowly turning the screw with Brian Stritch setting up brother Stephen for a point with Brian Stritch converting a third free in the 35th minute after Cormac McGrath was adjudged to have picked the ball-up off the ground.
John Foley cut over a fine site cut for his side but when David Hickey won the ball in a tight space before kicking to the net in the 40th minute, a six-point gap now separated the sides. TJ O’Connell set-up substitute Steven O’Brien as the lead extended further for the lakesiders. Kevin Mulcahy fired over a badly needed score for his side and they were almost handed a goal, literally in the 50th minute when Jerry O’Brien almost handpassed the ball into his own net with the centre back and Martin McKeogh relieved to see the ball land inches wide for a 65 which fell short but Liam Berkery managed to point the loose ball. 
Brian Stritch won a vital puckout for his side, beginning the move, which saw TJ O’Connell play in Stephen Stritch for a point from an acute angle. Despite the score, the momentum remained with Ballinahinch with Brendan Ryan converting a free and less than thirty seconds after moving from centre back to centre forward, Shane McGrath had point from play and the margin was down to four points with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Brendan Ryan added a second free before Dave Ryan set-up Shane McGrath for his third point from play. Dave Ryan was inches away from a goal after being played in by Liam Berkery but Martin McKeogh came off his line quickly to divert for a 65 which Shane McGrath converted, leaving the minimum between the sides going into added time.  
The drama was only building as Steven O’Brien looked set to clinch the game when he latched onto a long ball and flicked over the advancing Cormac McGrath but the goalkeeper got back to divert away for a 65 which Brian Stritch converted. A quick puckout didn’t work out for Ballinahinch as Jerry O’Brien intercepted to burst forward to point from 60-yards. Still there was time for Ballinahinch as John Foley’s effort flew across the face of goal while in the fifth minute Donnacha McGrath and Dave Ryan had half chances for goals blocked as Ballina managed to hang on grimly to a three-point victory.
Scorers: Shane McGrath 0-4 (1 '65), Liam Berkery 1-1, John Foley 0-2 (1s/l), Kevin Mulcahy (0-2), Brendan Ryan 0-2, Brendan Healy, Ger Griffin 0-1.