TABLE-TOPPING Ballyvarley turned in another five star performance to beat visitors Ballycran by three points in an exciting contest that saw them maintain their perfect start to the league campaign.
The visit of Ballycran is always a highlight of the hurling season and in keeping with the occasion Ballyvarley produced an excellent display to continue their best start league start for many years and deservedly record their fourth consecutive victory.
Ballyvarley were quick to get into their stride and from a period of early dominance Paul O’Neill converted an early free before James McGrath pulled first time in a goalmouth melee to crash home the opening goal.
However, Ballycran were to prove formidable opponents and it wasn’t long before the teams were level with full forward Michael Braniff finishing a half chance to the net and McGrattan shooting over the bar for the equaliser.
Ballyvarley’s reply wasn’t long in coming with full forward James Mc Grath carving an opening for Conor McClorey to race through and fire home goal number two.
McClorey was to turn provider moments later when he played a neat one-two with Paul O’Neill before the latter fired over from wide on the right.
Ballycran were not to be outdone and as the game developed into a rip-roaring contest they shot over three further points to leave just the minimum separating the sides.
Another impressive spell of Ballyvarley scoring, just before the interval, opened up a six point gap between the sides as the Reds strove resolutely towards another home win. James McGrath was at the centre of things again racing out to collect a high ball before turning and firing over the bar.
He then played a combination of passes with Paul O’Neill to send Conor McClorey racing across goal and the half forward was in deadly form sending a powerful drive to the back of the net for his second goal of the night. A late point from McGrattan spoiled the party just a little but Ballyvarley were more than happy at the interval with a commanding five point lead.
Ballycran got off to a flying start after the break and it all began to unravel for the home side. Two simple goals from Braniff and Caldwell in the first five minutes turned the game on its head as Ballyvarley’s hard earned advantage suddenly disappeared and the visitors took the lead for the first time in the game.
Tempers flared as the exchanges became keener and the dismissal of Ballyvarley’s impressive centre half back, Colm O’Neill, was a major body blow both for the Red’s chances in this game and for their prospects in the key battles to come.
However, Ballyvarley responded to the extra man situation much better than Ballycran and driven by a sense of injustice the Reds battled like demons to turn back the tide and rescue this game from the jaws of defeat.
Full-forward James McGrath moved to centre-half back where he turned in a man of the match performance and midfielder Paul O’Neill pushed into the forward line to add his scoring power to the Ballyvarley cause.
Thomas Lennon, Sean Kennedy, Gavin McGreevey, Richard Armstrong and Steven Daly were immense in defence and joined McGrath in almost completely snuffing out the Ballycran threat, limiting the Ards men to a solitary point for the rest of the game. Ciaran Connolly got through a lot of work in midfield as Conor McClorey and substitutes James McConville and Peter McConville battled hard up front to make up for the one man deficit.
The Reds endeavour was soon to pay rich dividends and Paul O’Neill capitalised on a hard-earned close in free by driving the ball through the defensive wall and into the back of the net to put the Reds into the lead once again. Another O’Neill free pushed Ballyvarley into a three point lead and as the scoring virtually dried up in this tense battle of attrition James McConville sent O’Neill through to drive over the insurance point.
With the last attack of the game Ballycran finally broke through the Reds rear-guard but under pressure Braniff hit his rasping shot over the cross-bar and the Reds had triumphed over adversity and emerged with another memorable victory.
TEAM: Cathal O’Neill; Gavin McGreevey, Thomas Lennon, Sean Kennedy; Steven Daly, Colm O’Neill, Richard Armstrong; Paul O’Neill(1-4), Ciaran Connolly; Patrick Mackin, Niall Savage, Conor McClorey(2-0); Jonathan Lennon, James McGrath(1-2), Tony Hegarty. Subs: James McConville, Peter McConville, Ciaron Davis