THERE is no better way to start a league campaign than with a rip-roaring West Down Derby and, after a thrilling hour of fully committed hurling,
Ballela elected to play with the aid of a stiff breeze in the first half and for much of that period the visitors enjoyed the upper hand. Johnny McCusker opened their account with the first of 18 scores from frees on the night and Noel Burns doubled the lead moments later with a fine solo effort.
Ballyvarley were clearly struggling to win possession in this opening quarter and a Paul O’Neill point kept them in touch with an enthusiastic Ballela side that threatened to go on the rampage. McCusker, Noel Burns, Rory McPolin, Michael Doyle and Mark Cosgrave were driving the visitors forward but a combination of stout Ballyvarley defending and poor finishing kept the scoring down.
Two further points from McCusker opened up a three point gap but much of their good work was spoiled by a succession of wides and in a rare Ballyvarley attack Paul O’Neill placed a superb Sean Kennedy for a long range point that left only two points between the sides.
Jonathan Lennon soloed through to slot over from close range and Paul O’Neill pointed another free as the Reds made the best use of sparse possession.
However, much of the territorial advantage was Ballela’s as they added four further points without reply, three from McCusker and one from Mark Cosgrove, to give them a 0-8 to 0-4 interval lead.
The game entered a new phase after the break as Ballyvarley started the second half in whirlwind fashion with two rousing points from play by the in-form Paul O’Neill and a hard running Patrick Mackin to leave just two points between the sides.
Already we could see the impact that wind advantage was going to have on Ballyvarley’s improving fortunes but, just like Ballela in the first half, they failed to capitalise on some gilt edged scoring opportunities.
Ballela rallied to the revitalised Ballyvarley challenge and with three further points from Johnny McCusker they increased their lead to five points. However wind advantage had turned the tide in Ballyvarley’s favour and just as Johnny McCusker was to the fore in punishing indiscretions in the first half, so free taker Paul O’Neill was on form in the second half to punish Ballela’s mistimed tackles.
Four frees from O’Neill and a point from play by Johnny Lennon brought the sides level and set the scene for the usual frenetic finish to a closely contested derby game. O’Neill gave Ballyvarley the lead three times in the closing minutes and on two occasions McCusker hauled Ballela back on level terms but the third point proved decisive as the home side took the honours in a sporting and thrilling hour of hurling.
BALLYVARLEY: David Lavery; James McConville, Niall Higgins, Ciaran Connolly; Stephen Daly, Sean Kennedy(0-1), Richard Armstrong; Niall Savage, Paul O’Neill(0-10); Tony Hegarty, Patrick Mackin(0-1), Conor McClorey; Colm O’Neill, James McGrath, Jonathan Lennon(0-2). Subs: Chris Lennon, Ciaron Davies, Peter McConville, Philip Jordan, Rory McShane, Maurice McGrath, Michael Lennon
Ballela Scorers: Johnny McCusker(0-11); Noel Burns(0-1), Mark Cosgrave(0-1)