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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Sportsfile Ballygunner's Pauric Mahony.
# the Gunners
From extra-time epic to 17-point win, now on guard for Munster final rematch
Ballygunner are wary of Ballyea’s challenge next Saturday.

A YEAR AND a day since Ballygunner put 3-20 on the board against Ballyea, running out 17-point winners, Pauric Mahony has insisted that little can be read into that result.

The sides will meet again on Saturday in this season’s AIB Munster club hurling final – it was a quarter-final last year – and, according to Mahony, what makes the 2021 result so irrelevant is the absence of Tony Kelly from Ballyea’s team that day.

There aren’t too many players that could be said to be worth anything like 17 points to a team but there aren’t too many players like Kelly either.

“We haven’t spoken or looked back into that game because I don’t think it’s a true reflection of Ballyea,” insisted Ballygunner attacker Mahony.

“I know they have three or four new lads in this year who weren’t playing then. Obviously, one of the best hurlers to ever play the game wasn’t on the pitch that day either so we’re not even considering that result as relevant. It would be fairer to go back to the previous game between us than last year.”

To do that, you have to go back to early November, 2018, and an epic provincial semi-final that lasted more than 90 minutes at Walsh Park. Ballygunner, eventually, beat the 2016 champions by 2-26 to 2-23 though Mahony remembers wiping beads of sweat from his brow afterwards and walking away a relieved man.

Kelly, for the record, didn’t put up a huge tally that afternoon, scoring a relatively meagre 0-3 – compared to the 2-10 amassed by Niall Deasy – though the former Hurler of the Year did chop one sumptuous score from a line ball.

“Whether club or county, you’d be a fool if you weren’t putting a certain level of emphasis on Tony,” said Mahony.

“To be fair, they’ve a lot of other new lads there too. Gearoid O’Connell is back at wing-back, (Cathal) O’Connor at wing-forward wasn’t there either last year so there’s three key players who would be fit to get into any club team in the country. We’re just building ourselves up to bring our A game, to try to keep control of what Ballyea are going to bring on the other side.”

On the same afternoon that Ballyea snuck past St Finbarr’s in Ennis last Sunday week, the reigning All-Ireland title holders opened up with some heavy duty hurling to eventually blow away a terrific Na Piarsaigh team, in Limerick. The stamp of champions was all over Darragh O’Sullivan’s side that day.

“For us it was just a very exciting challenge going down to the Gaelic Grounds, a place where Waterford teams in the past, both club and county, hadn’t a fantastic record,” said Mahony. “We have a history with Na Piarsaigh over the last number of years, whether it’s finals or semi-finals, and they’ve always been great games of hurling.

“Look down through the team sheets on both sides and there’s a lot of inter-county players, past and present, so it’s a game you relish playing in.”

Na Piarsaigh led a ridiculously high quality encounter by five points at half-time but couldn’t sustain it and lost by five.

“We were relatively happy that there was a lot of good stuff in that half – we just needed to do more of it,” said Mahony. “We knew that Na Piarsaigh had thrown so much at us as well. There was plenty of energy in the dressing-room, we knew there was a lot still in the tank. We just needed to empty it in the second-half. Thankfully we did that.”

Mahony’s form in particular was excellent, the experienced free-taker acknowledging that he ‘got into a bit of a rhythm 15 minutes in’ and freewheeled from there.

Whenever the latest club odyssey ends – it could ultimately be on All-Ireland final day again in early 2023 – Mahony will return to the Waterford setup under new manager Davy Fitzgerald. He and his Deise colleagues will be eager to perform after another poor Munster round robin campaign last summer.

“It’s really exciting for the players in Waterford at the moment,” said Mahony. “I don’t know if there’s a point to prove but it feels like that, that as players and individuals we haven’t been delivering enough for Waterford.

“Davy’s track record speaks for itself. He’s brought success wherever he’s gone. The last time in Waterford that there was huge success, he was there. For a county that doesn’t have a huge amount of Munster championships, Davy was the last one to bring a title here. So it’s exciting for all the players.”

Despite the Waterford difficulties, it will still go down as a year to remember for Mahony, perhaps his best yet in hurling.

He fired seven points in February’s AIB All-Ireland club final defeat of Ballyhale Shamrocks.

They have since retained their Waterford title, taking their unbeaten streak in the county to 48 games, and are an hour from another Munster title.

Mahony says the success has been genuinely life changing for him.

“It made things a lot easier in terms of getting on with life and maximising yourself off the hurling pitch as well,” he said. “Things became a lot easier for the fact that you had achieved something so big.”

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