Ballyhale have that little bit extra
KILKENNY SHC FINAL Ballyhale 0-16 Dicksboro 0-12:Favourites Ballyhale performed sufficiently to add a fifth Kilkenny title in seven years at Nowlan Park yesterday. A crowd of 8,652 turned out in the heavy, autumn weather to see the All-Ireland front runners suppress for a while longer the ambitions of the young city team from Dicksboro.
Ballyhale never looked like running away with the county final but neither did they ever look in danger. They were frustrated by a terrific rearguard action and also affected by a subdued performance from their newly crowned Hurler of the Year Henry Shefflin, who saw two first-half penalties saved by goalkeeper turned full forward Shane Maher, who dropped back to stand on the line for both.
The winners led nonetheless from gun to tape and whenever Dicksboro battled back to within range, Shamrocks appeared able to put the foot down and move clear.
It was a battling performance by the underdogs who, having mopped up a fair few titles at underage level since the end of the last decade, will be have learned from yesterday’s experience but their feisty defence needed more relief up front than came from Martin Gaffney’s fine free-taking and an attack that Ballyhale’s own defence kept largely at bay.
Had Shefflin converted even one of the penalties – both awarded for fouls on him – Ballyhale might have pulled away but with just a point coming from the two chances after Colin Fennelly fastened onto the rebound and saw his shot flipped over the bar, the winners got no decisive traction.
“Our performances were a bit all over the place,” said Shefflin afterwards. “But if we’d got a goal or two in the first half – we were on top at that stage and that could have been the difference. Dicksboro are very young and fit and hung in there.
“I missed one in the semi-final as well,” he acknowledged when asked about the penalties, “so that’s three in the last couple of weeks. The first one I hit well and he saved it well and the second one I hit well enough although not as well as the first one but he did very well to save. It’s hard to score a goal this weather – the ball doesn’t travel as fast. My head was starting to drift. If they come back to beat you in the second half, you’ll be thinking of the two missed penalties.”
Ballyhale started purposefully with the first four points but a second-quarter recovery and nice scores from play from Ollie and Oisín Walsh plus a Gaffney free from his own 65 cut the margin to one, 0-4 to 0-5 and by half-time the score of 0-9 to 0-7 was one with which Dicksboro could feel very pleased.
Ballyhale tightened their grip after half-time with points from Eoin Reid’s weaving run and after good support play by James Fitzpatrick. The third quarter saw their lead extend to six at one stage but still their opponents resisted.
Had replacement Eddie O’Donoghue not hit the post with five minutes left there might have been fireworks but instead Ballyhale closed out the match with Colin Fennelly looking happier making runs from deeper rather than at full forward and Mark Aylward hitting a grace-note point in injury-time to seal a deserved but understated victory.
Colin Fennelly gave his reaction to paradise regained.
“It’s a great feeling. Three years ago we won four in-a-row and when we lost one we thought we’d just be taking a break and win it again last year. Last year was a big loss so we’re delighted to come back this year.”
Shefflin admitted that after his phenomenal year, winning a record ninth All-Ireland and an unprecedented third Hurler of the Year award, yesterday had the potential to spoil things.
“It was a sweet one because if we’d lost I’d have been fairly depressed for the winter so that after everything that’s gone in the year so far it would have been gut-wrenching.”
BALLYHALE: R Reid; P Shefflin, A Cummins, A Cuddihy; M Dermody, J Holden, R Aylward (0-1, free); E Walsh, M Fennelly (0-1); J Fitzpatrick (0-1), H Shefflin (0-5, all frees), M Aylward (0-3); C Walsh (0-1), C Fennelly (0-2), E Reid (0-2). Subs: P Reid for Walsh (47 mins), D Hoyne for E Reid (59 mins).
DICKSBORO: A Duggan; K Cuddihy, D Kenny, E Malone; M Fagan, D Glynn, R Fitzpatrick; C Buckley, J Fagan; M Gaffney (0-8, all frees), Oisín Walsh (0-1), Ollie Walsh (0-1); K Kenny, S Maher, P O’Flynn (0-1). Subs: E O’Donoghue (0-1) for Kenny (26 mins), C Starr for Fagan (39 mins).
Referee: G Quilty(Slieverue).