A virtuoso display by Niall Burke helped Oranmore-Maree to the Connacht Intermediate hurling championship in Athleague (Roscommon ) on Saturday.
The 27-year-old top scored with a superb 1-10, 1-5 from play, as the Galway outfit justified their favourites tag, dethroning the 2017 provincial holders, Tooreen, in front of a big crowd.
The informed opinion before the game suggested that Tooreen needed to get off to a good start if they were to have any chance of retaining the title they claimed last year. They did land the first score of the game through a Sean Kenny free four minutes in, but over the next four minutes Oranmore-Maree took control of the contest and reeled off six points on the bounce, Ross Malone with three points, Alan Burke, Sean McInerney, and Padraic Keane all raising the white flag.
It looked like it was going to be plain sailing for the Galway men from there - but Tooreen upped their intensity and took control of the contest outscoring their opponents by 0-7 to 0-2 over the next 14 minutes.
Shane Boland landed five frees while Sean Kenny tagged on two more, one from a free and one from play to leave the game level at eight points each four minutes from the break, with Niall Burke getting his first score of the day from a free and Alan Burke responding for the Galway champions.
Niall Burke edged his side back in front a minute into injury time and a minute later he got his hurl to a ball dropped in by Ross Malone and tipped it just past Stephen Leneghan to put his side into a 1-9 to 0-8 lead. Then Tooreen were dealt another blow when Conor Henry was shown a straight red card before the half time whistle was blown, looking like it was going to leave the Mayo men with a huge hill to climb in the second half.
Fergal Boland opened the scoring in the second half with an excellently taken score from play to cut the gap back to three points early on. Boland’s battle with Gearóid McInerney was one of the highlights of the game, with Boland putting in a top class showing against the All Ireland senior hurling championship winner.
Niall Burke and Shane Boland swapped points, before Burke edged his side four clear 36 minutes in from a placed ball. Tooreen were thrown a lifeline 38 minutes in when Rory McInerney misjudged his puck out and the Tooreen full forward claimed the ball and made a break for goal. He did not connect as cleanly as he would have liked but it still had enough on it to sneak past McInerney over the line into the back of the net.
However Oranmore-Maree responded well and a brace of points from Burke along with one from Sean McInerney pushed their side four clear again as the clock approached the three quarter-mark and Tooreen lost David Kenny for a second yellow card.
It was all gravy for Oranmore-Maree after that as they landed six more points to their opponents' two before the end of the contest.
Oranmore-Maree march on to the All Ireland series where they will face off against St Gall's of Antrim in the New Year.
Oranmore-Maree: N Burke (1-10, 4f, 1 65’ ), A Burke (0-3 ), R Malone (0-3 ), S McInerney (0-2 ), P Keane (0-1 ), G McInerney (0-1 )
Tooreen: S Boland (1-9, 7f ), S Kenny (0-3,2f ), F Boland (0-1 ), D Huane (0-1 ), C English (0-1 )
Oranmore-Maree: R McInerney; S Bannon, S Geoghegan, A Bannon; M Hannify, G McInerney, L Keane; N Geoghegan, R Maher; M Quinn, A Burke, N Burke; R Malone, P Keane, S McInerney. Subs: E Burke for N Geoghegan, N Qualter for R Maher, S Hynes for A Bannon, S Dunne for P Keane.
Tooreen: S Lenehan; A Henry, M Morley, P Delaney; S Morley, S Coyne, C Henry; C Freeman, D Kenny; S Regan, F Boland, D Huane; S Kenny, S Boland, B Morley. Subs: C English for C Freeman, D Harrision for B Morley, J Ganley for S Kenny, N Robinson for S Morley.
Ref: J Keenan (Wicklow ).