Abbeyleix-Ballypickas earned the right to play for this year’s U-21 championship after a very dramatic semi-final victory over Clough-Ballacolla last Saturday afternoon, in Kelly O’Daly Park, Rathdowney.
U-21 Hurling Championship semi-final
This year’s championship sparked keen interest among hurling followers in Laois, owing to probably the strongest playing field of competitors we have seen at the grade in quite a few years, reflected in the county team’s run all the way to the Leinster final.
When the draw was made for the first round of the championship, there was a fair bit of excitement over the possible semi-final and final combinations.
Few would have included Abbeyleix-Ballypickas among the four or five teams capable of making the final, but they have certainly been the main source of excitement in this year’s championship, and have shown that they thoroughly deserve to be there.
They have, despite being underdogs on both occasions, come through two very tough games which required extra-time and hold on for wins. To make things even more difficult for Abbeyleix-Ballypickas, last Saturday afternoon’s extra-time was unwarranted.
At the end of 60 minutes, the notes of this reporter along with three separate supporters keeping score (all neutral, of course), showed a one point victory for Abbeyleix, 1-13 to 0-15. The final whistle directly after Daire McWey’s dramatic last gasp ‘winner’, brought celebrations from the Abbeyleix support, which were soon muted by referee Anthony Stapleton’s announcement that Clough-Ballacolla had indeed scored 16 points. Even some Clough-Ballacolla eyebrows were raised.
Nevertheless, the momentum Abbeyleix accrued by scoring the last four points in normal time, carried over as they repeated the same trick in extra time, leaving no doubt at the finish.
Despite that particular incident and what seemed to be the constant criticism of anything and everything that moved preceding it, by both sets of supporters, it was actually a brilliant match.
The first half was Clough-Ballacolla’s. They outscored Abbeyleix 0-9 to 0-6 in the first 30 minutes and were able to take some lovely scores from play from James ‘Bully’ Maher, Willy Dunphy and Paddy Duggan. Against any other team, they would have lead by more at the break too, but frees given away by their half-forward line and midfield were lashed over from ridiculous distances by man of the match Enda Rowland, the Abbeyleix goalie. Three further frees from centre-forward MJ Lawlor meant that none of Abbeyleix-Ballypickas’ first half scores came from play.
A brilliant Willy Dunphy point at the start of the second half, followed by three Picky Maher frees, cancelled out two Lawlor points to give Clough-Ballacolla a five point lead, and a glimpse of a final place.
On 43 minutes, Ryan Peacock broke through the Clough-Ballacolla full-back line and shook the roof of the net, making up for Enda Rowlands first half saved penalty and MJ Lawlor’s 21 yard free attempt.
Another Abbeyleix rally was stopped in its tracks by a huge Bully Maher point on 46 minutes, Clough-Ballacolla’s 15th point from a Picky Maher free opening up a three point gap on 52minutes, and the decision to disallow an MJ Lawlor point which divided the opinion of the umpires.
Abbeyliex rallied, with the help of two influential subs Dan Shanahan and Ricky Nolan, to score four points in a row, and draw the game.
MJ Lawlor scored five of Abbeyleix’s six extra-time scores and Picky Maher grabbed three of his sides four. Can Abbeyleix now make it three upsets in a row?
SCORERS - Abbeyleix-Ballypickas: MJ Lawlor 0-11 (0-7 frees), Enda Rowland 0-5 (all frees), Daire McWey, Tom Doyle and Dan Scully all 0-1 each; Clough-Ballacolla: Stephen Maher 0-13 (0-9 frees), James Maher and Willy Dunphy 0-2 each, Ciarán Finane and Paddy Duggan 0-1 each
ABBEYLEIX-BALLYPICKAS: Enda Rowland; Mark Cahill, Oisin Carroll, Alan Cahill; Kieran Bowe, Daire McWey, Tomás Moore; Tom Doyle, Adrian McDonald; Dan Maloney, MJ Lawlor, Ryan Peacock; Eoin Fennelly, Martin Scully, Dan Scully. Subs Dan Shanahan for Mark Cahill, Ricky Nolan for Adrian McDonald.
CLOUGH-BALLACOLLA: Sean Corby; Brian Doherty, Ronan Broderick, Johnny Finane; John Keane, Bill Duggan, Eoin Doyle; Kieran Hyland, Shane Hyland; Ciarán Finane, Willy Dunphy, Paddy Duggan; Steven Bergin, Picky Maher, James Maher.