Ballyhale Shamrocks win completes ‘best year’ yet for Kilkenny hurling

They won a record eighth Leinster club championship beating Kilcormac-Killoughey

Ballyhale Shamrocks vs Kilcormac/KillougheyBallyhale Shamrocks’ Henry Shefflin and Peter Healion of Kilcormac/Killoughey. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Ballyhale Shamrocks vs Kilcormac/KillougheyBallyhale Shamrocks’ Henry Shefflin and Peter Healion of Kilcormac/Killoughey. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-21 Kilcormac-Killoughey 1-14 AET

The hot favourites won and the underdogs put in a game challenge but it would be wrong to conclude that yesterday’s AIB Leinster club hurling final in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise was as predictable as that.

Ballyhale completed a fine year for Kilkenny hurling and got the focus back on the field after the recent roll-call of retirements but it took until extra time for Shamrocks to stamp their quality on the match and by then Kilcormac were exhausted, hampered by injury and probably demoralised by a sequence of missed frees that ultimately cost them the match.

Champions for the eighth time, Ballyhale had an all-action performance from Hurler of the Year TJ Reid and a valuable four-point contribution from Henry Shefflin but for periods they were sluggish and under pressure from their feisty Offaly opponents.

Within a minute Cillian Kiely and James Gorman, with a fine catch and solo, had put Kilcormac - well represented in a reasonable crowd - into an early lead and when Reid was uncharacteristically wide with his first free the initial conditions for an upset appeared to be gathering.

At times though Kilcormac were just about hanging on, as Colin Fennelly made a couple of lightning raids through the middle of the defence and firstly earned a free, which Reid converted, and secondly went for goal himself and got blocked.

That threat abated and the match settled into a tit-for-tat rhythm with neither side taking control on the scoreboard.

Kilcormac defended energetically against an attack featuring two Hurlers of the Year, Reid and Shefflin, and a Young Hurler of the Year, James Fitzpatrick. The Offaly side’s physicality appeared to knock back Ballyhale both literally and metaphorically but there was also fine stick work by Kevin Grogan and Alan McConville.

A couple of nice points under pressure from Conor Mahon and Damien Kilmartin gave Kilcormac a two-point lead but Reid equalised with two from play and his free broke for Shefflin to put Ballyhale in front before half-time.

The winners’ full-back line had been flagged as a possible vulnerability but Joey Holden battled hard with Dan Currams, preventing him getting in a shot in the 24th minute and Michael Fennelly had intervened from centre back with a telling block shortly before.

Currams had his say shortly after the break when Gorman’s shot was blocked and the full forward picked up the loose ball and flicked it into the net to give the Offaly club the lead, 1-6 to 0-9.

The big influence on the match, however, also emerged after half-time when Kilcormac began to miss dead-ball opportunities. Their most famous victories - such as the defeat of Thurles Sarsfields two seasons ago - have been underwritten by Ciarán Slevin’s reliable marksmanship but his radar malfunctioned yesterday with three frees and a 65 flying wide of the same, right post.

He fought hard in play to put it behind him and at one stage hoisted a fine point from play but even a last-minute hit-and-hope free - after he had just equalised - from the best part of 90 metres fell short and after it had broken for Kilcormac, the ball was fouled and full time whistled.

James Fitzpatrick came into the match when switched to centrefield in the second half and Shefflin scrapped away - the latter scoring a point in all four periods of play, some of them virtuoso shots.

In extra time Kilcormac had to replace injured full back Ger Healion and the reshuffle took Grogan, who despite Reid’s influence on the wing played well, to the edge of the square.

Finally Ballyahle clicked. TJ Reid dropped to centrefield and they picked off their scores. Battle as they did, Kilcormac couldn’t bridge the gap and it’s a tribute to their display that they defeat came so agonisingly.

Shamrocks kick on and will be hard stopped on the way to regaining the All-Ireland for the first time since 2010.

Speaking afterwards, Colin Fennelly said 2014 had been the best season of his career to date.

“An absolutely amazing year. At the start of the year I never ever would have thought anything like this between four wins with Kilkenny, county final, Leinster final - it’s been the best year of my life by far with hurling and I can’t wait to enjoy it over Christmas.”

He acknowledged however that had Kilcormac taken their chances the match might have been beyond his team at the end of normal time but said that they tightened their focus before extra time.

“To be fair, their frees probably should have put us away. They were unlucky with the frees but we got the second chance and we took it.

“We said it just after the match (end of normal time), point for point; just take our points and that’s exactly what we did. We got our few points and were unlucky for a goal chance - Brian Cody! We’ll give him a lot of abuse over the Christmas for that so we will.”

Kilcormac manager Danny Owens, who led the club to the 2013 All-Ireland final, was hugely disappointed not to have put away the match in normal time.

“We’re gutted. We had the chances to win it. We should have won it in normal time. I think any objective onlooker would say that.

We didn’t take our chances on the day but that’s the way it goes. We lost Ger (Healion) and we had to re-jig the team after that. It disrupted our shape a bit.

“We’re still fierce proud of the lads. Things didn’t go right for some fellas today but they were the heroes on other days.

“I’m not taking anything away from Shamrocks..when it looked like we were going to win the game, when the momentum was with us, they responded very well. Our name wasn’t on it today unfortunately.

“I can’t say enough about these lads in terms of what they’ve given not just to the club but also to Offaly hurling. They stood up again today but the breaks didn’t go our way.”

BALLYHALE: R Reid; K Nolan, J Holden, A Cuddihy; P Shefflin, M Fennelly, B Aylward; D Hoyne, C Walsh (0-1); J Fitzpatrick (0-2), C Fennelly, TJ Reid (capt; 0-10, seven frees, one 65); E Reid (0-1), H Shefflin (0-4), M Aylward (0-2). Subs: B Cody for Hoyne (half-time), A Cummins for B Aylward (55 mins), R Corcoran (0-1) for Walsh (58 mins), M Dermody for P Shefflin (76 mins), P Reid for M Aylward (78 mins), K Mullen for C Fennelly (82 mins).

KILCORMAC-KILLOUGHEY: Conor Slevin; Con Mahon, G Healion, A McConville; K Grogan, P Healion, B Leonard; D Kilmartin (0-1), K Leonard; Ciarán Slevin (0-7, five frees), Conor Mahon (0-1), C Kiely (0-2, one free); J Gorman (0-2), D Currams (capt; 1-1), P Geraghty. Subs: T Geraghty for Kilmartin (47 mins), D Murray for G Healion (extra time), S Guinan for Gorman (70 mins), E Grogan for Kiely (73 mins), J Grogan for McConville (81 mins)

Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)

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