Leinster SHC: King Henry arising again with Ballyhale Shamrocks

Colin Fennelly notches up 4-4 from play as Wexford’s Naomh Éanna are blown away

Ballyhale Shamrocks: 6-21 Naomh Éanna: 4-11

King Henry is arising again. Three years after stepping aside with a third AIB All-Ireland title with Ballyhale Shamrocks, he’s fast stepping up to the management game with all the trademarks that made Henry Shefflin the player.

Undaunted, unrelenting, capable of savage punishment – Ballyhale did to Naomh Éanna exactly what Shefflin so often did for both club and Kilkenny on the field of play. These transitions aren’t always easy, only one season in and Shefflin has already guided them back to another Leinster final to face Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda’s, who survived a major epic in the other semi-final.

Over this hour Ballyhale out-mastered and out-sized Naomh Éanna, but didn’t always out-fight them – the first-time Wexford champions from Gorey raising plenty of armed resistance in the opening half. Eventually it was as if they looked up and suddenly realised this was Ballyhale they were playing, the landlords and aristocrats of club hurling, with plenty of Shefflin’s former team mates – TJ Reid, captain Michael Fennelly, Joey Holden and especially Colin Fennelly leading the way.


Fennelly finished with 4-4, all from play, his fourth goal on 58 minutes particularly ruthlessly finished, after Reid slipped him the free, rather than settle for another late point. By then Naomh Éanna had given their all, an injury-time penalty from Conor McDonald pulling something back on the unassailable.

Two goals in two minutes from Cathal Dunbar in the opening 10 minutes had given them a dream start, and they kept their heads and their nerves until half-time – trailing Ballyhale by just three, 2-9 to 2-6. Truth is they partly gifted Ballyhale their first goal, finished by Eoin Reid, after veteran goalkeeper Barry Kinsella fluffed a clearance, and once Reid and Fennelly turned on the game there was no coming back.

Ballyhale finished with 11 different scorers, including Shefflin’s nephew Evan at wing back, the Reid’s combining for 2-7 between them. Like the player, Shefflin the manager is as gracious and largely understated in victory as he would be in defeat, even with a special shout out for Fennelly’s 4-4 – each goal as unstoppable as the next.

“I’m delighted for Colin, seriously delighted for him,” said Shefflin. “Because I know this year wasn’t a great year at county level, and some people were questioning him, but since he came back for me he’s worked and worked. Then he went to Australia (playing with Kilkenny last weekend in the Sydney challenge against Galway), minded himself over there, came back, wanted to do it, and has played a massive leadership part, and I’m delighted with his response, because he’s a very dangerous player on the edge of the square.”

Still, after trailing for much of the opening 20 minutes, Naomh Éanna up 2-2 to 1-4 on the quarter hour, there were management lessons there for Shefflin nonetheless: “I think we prepared very well, knew that Gorey play a good brand of hurling, and with Dunbar and McDonald inside, were going to cause us trouble. We were maybe a bit tentative coming down, and started like that. To be fair, we responded very well against the breeze, came in at half time three points down.

“And I think we’re learning the whole time. We were well ahead in the county final, and let Bennettsbridge back into it, and we weren’t going to let that happen here, and that’s why they drove on very well. That’s all starting to come together, the younger players are getting a bit of confidence, but I think our leaders, Mick (Fennelly), TJ (Reid), Joey (Holden) and Colin (Fennelly), up the centre, played very well. Once we got the couple of goals we knew we had a good chance at that stage”

And the sideline experience? “It’s challenging, and again I think we’re learning as we go as well. Even this is a new challenge, playing a club like Gorey, who we didn’t know much about, so you have to work on that in advance. It’s enjoyable, great to be still going, and no different to a player, it’s great to be standing here looking forward to a Leinster final, to shorten the winter that bit anyway.”

No regrets for Naomh Éanna, their maiden Leinster voyage ending – but five years since playing Intermediate A, the third tier in Wexford, manager Louis Cullen is still looking ahead: “Winning the first county final is something we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives and it’s something the lads achieved through hard work and grit. We were probably in bonus territory. Ballyhale have All-Stars, All-Ireland winners, we’re at our infancy playing at this level.

“We’re happy with our lot, we’re not happy with the result but we’re happy where we are as a club. It’s not what we wanted today but they’re a good group and they will come back. When you’re playing a team of that calibre, you have to learn from it and get up on the horse again, that’s the big thing for us.”

BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS (KILKENNY): D Mason; C Walsh, H Holden, B Butler; E Shefflin (0-1), M Fennelly (capt), D Mullen (0-1); R Corcoran (0-1), R Reid (0-1); B Cody (0-2), TJ Reid (0-6, one free, one 65), E Cody (1-1); E Reid (1-0), C Fennelly (4-4), A Mullen (0-3). Subs: G Butler for E Reid, M Aylward for Walsh (both 49 mins), J Cuddihy (0-1) for Mullen (54 mins), K Mullen for Butler ( 55 mins), P Mullen for Fennelly (58 mins).

NAOMH ÉANNA (WEXFORD): B Kinsella; T Stafford, B Travers (capt), L Kinsella; 5 J Cullen (1-2), 6 S Doyle, E Conroy; A Doyle, P Doyle (0-6, three frees, one 65), D Hughes; D O'Brien, C McDonald (1-0, penalty), C Dunbar (2-3). Subs: J Cushe for Kinsella (21 mins, inj), W Cullen for Hughes (38 mins), C Hughes for O'Brien (45 mins).

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics