On a day when Croke Park was so cold you half expected a colony of penguins to march by, the favourites in both Leinster finals made it all very black and white. Shamrocks Ballyhale won their fourth provincial hurling title in a row, while Kilmacud Crokes made it back-to-back in the football. In December, experience is a handy club to have in the bag.
The best game of the two came in the hurling where Ballyhale eventually ran out 2-22 to 2-19 winners over a Kilmacud side playing in its first ever Leinster final. That only partly tells the story though – Ballyhale had a 14-point lead at one stage but a second-half fightback from the Dublin champions whittled the margin all the way down to a point.
“We brought savage physicality in the first half,” said Ballyhale manager Pat Hoban afterwards. “You’re up at half-time, you’re leading and you get the first couple of points in the second half and maybe you go a little soft mentally. But they came at us with savage pace and caused us huge problems.”
In the end, Kilmacud came up short, with the crucial Ballyhale score coming on 50 minutes – a mis-hit shot from Eoin Kennealy dropping into the Crokes net. It loosened Ballyhale’s collar and allowed them the freedom to see it out. They haven’t been beaten in Leinster since the 2012 semi-final against Oulart-The Ballagh. Crokes gave them plenty of it here and weren’t a bit cowed, earning plenty of admirers in defeat.
The southside club had other business to attend to in the second match. They became the first club to reach Leinster finals in both codes since Portlaoise in 1987 and ended up emulating the Laois side by losing the hurling and winning the football, with a 1-12 to 0-8 victory over The Downs of Westmeath.
An early goal by Shane Cunningham sent Crokes on their way and Shane Walsh belied the conditions by turning in a scintillating display the rest of the way. The Galway All Star ended the game with nine points, including three from play. Combine that with Kilmacud’s miserly defence – they didn’t concede a first-half point from play for the second game in a row – and the Dublin champions are a pretty monstrous proposition.
“Somebody said he scored nine, I didn’t realise he got that much,” Crokes manager Robbie Brennan said of Walsh afterwards. “I think he was sick for the last game and I think you see the bit of difference, the spark in him in today’s game.
“Again, obviously the scoring from Shane is huge but defensively he puts in a huge shift as well, which is part of what we do. He has that type of ability, he is a bit of a genius with the ball and it’s good he can show it out there on those type of days.
“That’s our third Leinster final in five years – won two and lost one. To have done it in a club where it hadn’t been done, doubles have been done in Dublin but not back-to-back Leinsters. So it means a lot to the group.”