Ballela 1-10 Ballyvarley 1-10
The joint leaders in the Down Senior Hurling league fought out a nail-biting stalemate in a tempestuous West Down derby in Ballela which saw Ballyvarley preserve the only unbeaten record in the league and Ballela continue their good form and maintain their unbeaten run as both sides strengthened their challenge for the league title.
Both sides were missing several key players so the quality of play was not what we have been used to in recent local clashes but the importance of the occasion produced a hectic hours hurling where terms like “clash of the ash” and “bruising battle” were very much to the fore in describing this passionate tussle for local pride.
The opening minute of this tension driven affair proved something of a disaster for Ballyvarley with Kelvin Magee latching on to a loose ball in the Reds defence to hammer home Ballela’s opening goal and straight from the puck out top scorer Paul O’Neill suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury and was forced to retire from the game.
Ballyvarley recovered remarkably well from this double set-back and a well taken point from Patrick Mackin and a converted free from Tony Hegarty were key scores in restoring the visitors morale.
A Noel Burns free edged Ballela further in front but then a neat move between Conor McClorey and Philip Jordan provided Tony Hegarty with a shooting opportunity and he lashed the ball to the back of the net to give Ballyvarley a shock lead. Noel Burns was quick to equalise with another free but moments later we had one of the key moments in the game as Tony Hegarty unleashed another cracking shot towards the corner of the Ballela net only for goalkeeper Gary McMullan to pull off a magnificent full length save to push the ball around the post and away to safety.
James McConville produced some fine stick-work to create an opening for Eunan McConville to fire the Reds ahead once more but as the clashes became increasingly more competitive there were few clear-cut chances for either side and it was left to the free-takers to make the best of their opportunities as Tony Hegarty scored three from placed balls for the Reds and Noel Burns responding in kind for Ballela to leave the sides locked on level terms at the interval.
Half time: Ballela 1-6 Ballyvarley 1-6
Tony Hegarty and Noel Burns exchanged points early in the second half and when Conor McClorey picked out Niall Savage for another point, Noel Burns was on hand again to level matters with another free.
As the commitment of both sides reached new levels in the second half so the physical nature of the clashes increased as both sides effectively stifled the creative tendencies of the other as they fought grimly to gain the upper hand.
James McConville turned quickly to drive over a great point from wide on the left wing and ten minutes later Eunan McConville fired over another to give Ballyvarley a two point advantage but then the scores completely dried up as the game developed into a test of endurance to see if the two point advantage would be enough to take the spoils.
As the Reds failed to find any penetration it was Ballela’s turn to apply most of the pressure in the closing ten minutes and with some great defending, Ballyvarley managed to keep the incessant attacks from the home side at bay. However, some indiscipline in the tackle resulted in the Ballela pressure drawing some crucial frees and with Noel Burns in such fine shooting form the inevitable happened as he shot over two further points to level the game and give both sides a deserved share of the spoils.
Final score: Ballela 1-10 Ballyvarley 1-10
Cathal O’Neill; Michael McKay, Thomas Lennon, Sean Kennedy; Stephen Daly, James McGrath, Kieran Maguire; Ciaran Connolly, Niall Savage(0-1); Conor McClorey, Eunan McConville(0-2), Tony Hegarty(1-5); Patrick Mackin(0-1), Philip Jordan, Paul O’Neill. Subs used: James McConville(0-1), Peter McConville, David Lavery, Barry Armstrong. Subs not used: Richard Armstrong, John O’Neill, Ciaron Davis