Reid has the vital final say as champions Ballyhale march on

Kilkenny legend scores goal from a free in the dying seconds to break St Thomas’ hearts

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Colin Fennelly and Bernard Burke of St Thomas in action during the All-Ireland club semi-final at FBD Semple Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Colin Fennelly and Bernard Burke of St Thomas in action during the All-Ireland club semi-final at FBD Semple Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Ballyhale Shamrocks 2-15 St Thomas’ 0-20

Wow. They say semi-finals are all about the winning and sometimes that requires a kind of magic.

Step up TJ Reid to keep Ballyhale Shamrocks on course for club hurling history, firing home the winning goal as the clock ticked farewell, at the same time breaking the hearts of the St Thomas’ players and the last of their spirit too.

In the now four years and four months since Ballyhale Shamrocks last lost a knock-out championship match, only the pandemic has halted their irrepressible dominance.

With time virtually up and the Thurles daylight fading fast, all winning momentum here seemed to lie with St Thomas’, captain Conor Cooney edging them two points clear, just as the three minutes of additional time were up.

Time enough however for Ballyhale to launch one last assault, resulting in a free about 25 metres out, still well right of the goal: for Reid, who had struck a magnificent penalty just minutes earlier to draw the sides back level, the only thing on his mind was to go for goal – which he did, finding a way through the thick shield of defence and smash the ball cleanly into the net.

There was time for a puck out and little more, Ballyhale covering the last break of the ball and that was that. They’ll play first-time finalists Ballygunner in three weeks’ time, the Kilkenny champions on course still to become the first club to win three successive hurling All-Irelands.

“I knew I’d the best man standing over it, that’s the first thing,” said Ballyhale manager James O’Connor, asked what was going through his head as Reid stepped up.

“If he’d see a gap, and there were a load of players crowded in there, so you’re talking about inches, and in fairness I knew it would be the last puck, we’d need that second goal to win this, and thank God he did.

“I was a defender myself, in for penalties and stuff, and sometimes you can crowd it out too much, get in each other’s view, and that’s a great scenario for the free-taker, you’ve a 50-50 chance at least. And that’s what you get from experience, it only takes only chance.”

He finished with 2-5, only at age 34 it wasn’t quite vintage Reid, and in truth he looked off the pace a little in parts: it didn’t matter when he can still convert such pivotal chances when they do come his way – Joseph Cuddihy and Eoin Cody adding crucial scores too.

For St Thomas’ manager Kenneth Burke, his stopwatch around his neck still running as he tried to make of that hectic endgame, there was shock, just no regret: they lorded much of the first half thanks to Cooney and the brilliant Éanna Burke and with dogged defending too from David and Fintan Burke, two points up at the turnaround. They went four clear midways through the second, 0-18 to 0-14; but crucially couldn’t stretch it beyond that.

“Phew, I dunno,” said Burke, “we left absolutely everything out there, absolutely gutted, thought we had it. Obviously they came back into it, two points going into injury time, we just had to keep it ticking over, keep a goal out, get over the line, and time is up.

“He (TJ) is out near the sideline and you’re thinking ‘there’s no way he’s going to score from there’, and still he managed to get it in, I don’t know how he got it in. We didn’t get a chance to reply, probably should have been a few more points ahead, so absolutely gutted.

“We knew from the start, we’d have to bring everything we had to be in position to try to win the game, which we did, so you couldn’t fault the performance, it was just that little rub of the green we didn’t get on the day.”

On top

Indeed already down injured centre-back Shane Cooney, St Thomas’ raised their game considerably, especially after losing to Ballyhale by 17 points in the 2019 All-Ireland final.

The penalty on 56 minutes, Colin Fennelly challenged high as he charged at goal, was the critical turning point. Once Reid converted, they got the sniff of victory, knowing well from experience how to keep moving in for the kill. They did likewise in the Leinster semi-final against Offaly champions St Rynagh’s.

“Those decisions are made, there’s nothing we can do,” Burke said of the penalty. “When he [Reid] stuck that one too, it was probably against the run of play, just when we were getting on top.

“Sure look, they’re not All-Ireland champions for nothing, they never give up. They keep playing until the whistle, but we had our chances there too, just to get that third or fourth point ahead. This team have put their heart and soul into it, not just this year, so it’s hard to take.”

Both teams came in with four successive county titles to the name, only for Ballyhale, celebrating 50 years in 2022, the incredible journey continues.

“We came up here to win a semi-final, I didn’t care if it was a point, or 20 points,” added O’Connor.

“We held in there, not playing well at times, no point saying otherwise, but again just had that character there in the end, never lost our cool, never panicked, got that chance in the end and took it. That’s the one thing you know about Shamrocks, they’re never dead until the whistle is blown. Goals have a massive bearing in a game like this, a puck of the ball between the two teams basically.”

BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: D Mason; D Mullen, J Holden, K Mullen; E Shefflin, R Reid, D Corcoran; C Phelan, P Mullen (0-1); A Mullen (0-1), TJ Reid (2-5, four frees, one penalty), B Cody; J Cuddihy (0-3), C Fennelly (capt) (0-1), E Cody (0-4).

Subs: E Kenneally for Phelan (31 mins, first half), B Butler for K Mullen (43 mins), C Walsh for D Mullen (55 mins), E Reid for Kenneally (57 mins).

ST THOMAS: G Kelly; C Mahony, F Burke, D Sherry; H Headd, D Burke, C Burke; E Duggan, B Burke (0-2); E Burke (0-4), C Cooney (capt) (0-11, 10 frees, one sideline), J Regan (0-1); O Flannery, D Burke (0-1), B Farrell (0-1). Subs: V Manso for Farrell (46 mins), M Caulfield for Duggan (57 mins).

Referee: Rory McGann (Clare)

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