Clough-Ballacolla stormed into the 2011 Laois SHC final on Sunday afternoon after disposing of a fancied Harps side in a victory that was every bit as emphatic as the final scoreline suggests.
The Harps came into the game as many people’s favourites for the SHC outright. After two tough games with Rathdowney-Errill they could scarcely have had better preparation, but nothing which had gone before in the SHC could have prepared them for what they experienced in the opening 20 minutes of this encounter.
Clough-Ballacolla simply blitzed them. With the wind at their backs in the opening half they attacked with a ferocious intensity which The Harps just could not withstand.
Willie Hyland spear-headed the assault, scoring two goals and setting up two more as The Harps looked a forlorn outfit after just 24 minutes of play. By that time Ballacolla had their fifth goal, as well as a place in the final. There was nothing that could be done to deny them.
For newly-appointed Laois senior hurling manager Teddy McCarthy, the performance of Willie Hyland is sure to have caught his eye. Ballacolla started him at wing-forward before moving him to edge of the square with just over five minutes gone, and it didn’t take him long to cause mayhem.
First Brian Galvin and then Kieran Fitzpatrick tried to contain him, but neither had any real success. He caught two balls against Galvin and finished with two goals, before plucking two more deliveries from the sky to set up a brace for Mick Dunphy. Throw in another effort which thundered off the crossbar and you get some idea of the pressure The Harps were under.
They had come into the game with such high hopes, playing a nice, attractive brand of hurling which had been cultivated by manager John Taylor. They started brightly, with Michael Lanigan pointing a free after less than a minute of play. When they then repelled a 21 yard free from Willie Hyland moments later, it looked like they were all set for the Ballacolla challenge, but cracks soon started to appear.
The first goal arrived after five minutes, Stephen Maher scything his way through The Harps before laying off to Willie Dunphy, and he rifled a shot to the top corner of the net. Lanigan hit back for The Harps, but two points in quick succession for Ballacolla were followed by Hyland’s first goal. Catching a ball low to the ground, he turned Galvin before placing a wonderful low shot past a diving Kevin Galvin.
Again Lanigan responded for The Harps but Ballacolla smelled blood, and with Hyland dominant, they rained the ball down on top of him. Another high ball in his direction produced the third goal, as he rounded Galvin before kicking the ball to the net.
The Harps were completely stunned, but could do little relieve the growing pressure. Another high ball found Hyland, which allowed him to set up Mick Dunphy for his first goal, and seconds later Hyland was again through on goal, only to see his effort come back off the crossbar.
They wouldn’t have to wait long for the fifth goal though, and in the 24th minute, Hyland once again won a high ball before popping the ball out to Dunphy once again, and he doubled on the ball to leave Kevin Galvin with no chance.
The Harps hit the last three points of the opening period to leave the half-time score reading 5-4 to 0-6 in Ballacolla’s favour, and in reality, it made the second half a non-event.
A torrential half-time downpour made conditions hazardous on the re-start too, with Damien Bergin stealing in for Ballacolla’s sixth goal after Kevin Galvin fumbled the ball in the greasy conditions, and the rest of the half played out to a predictable conclusion.
The Harps continued to battle right up to the final whistle, but they looked a totally shell-shocked side, and never had any real chance of bridging the sizeable gap between the teams. It is back to the drawing board for them, but with a Division 1 title secured this year, they are certainly doing more things right than wrong.
For Clough-Ballacolla, however, they have to do it all over again in ten days time.
SCORERS - Clough-Ballacolla: Willie Hyland 2-2 (0-2 frees), Mick Dunphy 2-1, Willie Dunphy, Damien Bergin 1-0 each, Stephen Maher 0-2, Shane Hanlon, Mick McEvoy 0-1; The Harps: Michael Lanigan 0-4 (two frees), Sean Bourke 0-3, Pat Walsh, Brian Galvin 0-2 each
CLOUGH-BALLACOLLA: Danny Hanlon; Jim Doyle, Darren Maher, Bill Duggan; Tom Delaney, John A Delaney, Canice Coonan; Shane Hanlon, Tim Delaney; Willie Hyland, Mick McEvoy, Brendan McEvoy; Stephen Maher, Mick Dunphy, Willie Dunphy. Subs: Damien Bergin for W Dunphy (half time), Lorcan Broderick for S Hanlon (49 mins), Ken Phelan for B McEvoy (56 mins), Pad McEvoy for Doyle (58 mins), Ciaran Hyland for S Maher (58 mins)
THE HARPS: Kevin Galvin; Barry Dunne, Brian Galvin, Patrick Dunne; Kieran Fitzpatrick, Conor Dunne, John Prior; Brian Dunne, David Freeman; Sean Bourke, John Brophy, Michael Lanigan; Aidan Galvin, Pat Walsh, Owen Clancy. Subs: Shane Phelan for Flynn (6 mins - inj), Paul Dunne for Phelan (half time - inj), Shane Donoghue for A Galvin (39 mins), Brian Clancy for Clancy (39 mins), Tommy Moore for Walsh (49 mins)
Referee: Mick Cleere (Rathdowney-Errill)