Henry Shefflin continues unbeaten run as Ballyhale retain Leinster crown
All-Ireland champions see off brave challenge of St Mullins in decider
Ballyhale’s Conor Walsh and his team-mates share the moment with team-mate Richie Reid who is currently with the Irish Army in the Lebanon after the victory over St Mullins in the AIB Leinster club hurling final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) 1-21 St Mullins (Carlow) 0-15
Henry Shefflin is no stranger to hurling records and he continues to boast an unbeaten one as manager of Ballyhale Shamrocks in the AIB club championship. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as the scoreline suggests, but in defending the Leinster club hurling title, their 10th in all, Shefflin’s transition to the sideline remains seamless.
It also keeps them on course to defend their All-Ireland title, something Ballyhale have never managed before, when they resume duty early next month with a semi-final date against Slaughtneil, the Derry and Ulster champions.
Shefflin did have to endure a couple of anxious moments here, most notably at the start of the second half when St Mullins forward James Doyle hit the butt of the post with a rasping shot that would otherwise have hit the net. Ballyhale scored their only goal from the resulting puck out, TJ Reid fetching the ball before promptly laying off to Colin Fennelly who duly buried it.
It means since taking charge for the 2018 season, Shefflin has won back-to-back county and provincial titles, with an All-Ireland to boot, which even by his own standards has defied most predictions.
“It’s very hard to describe,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been any way fancied to win our club championship last year, in 2018, so to be standing here now, there is a bit if a surreal feeling around the whole thing – when you’re expected to win. But coming from two years, when we lost a semi-final by 16 points, to where we are now is testament to the players, and the bit of youth and energy they all bring.
“The goal was a big turning point, just when St Mullins were looking for the score to lift them. But I think even before half-time we were turning the screw. Winning a 10th title, the back-to-back only once before, in 2008 and 2009, it’s a brilliant recognition for the players, TJ Reid, Colin, Michael Fennelly, who keep driving the thing.”
It will, however, make for a quiet Christmas around Ballyhale, given the notably shorter turnaround before the semi-final.
“It’s going to be challenging, and we haven’t thought much about it, because all our focus was on now. And I think for the intercounty players especially it’s a challenge, because they are the ones who do like to enjoy their Christmas and unwind a little, but I like the idea that whoever it may be will be finished by the end of January also.”
Colin Fennelly’s goal was certainly a turning point, coming just two minutes after the restart and pressing Ballyhale ahead 1-11 to 0-7, although he was otherwise well marshalled Paul Doyle
“The goal definitely came at the right time,” said Fennelly, who along with brother and team captain Michael has now won six Leinster club titles. And it probably happens a lot, where they have a chance at the other end, then a long puck out, TJ an absolutely fabulous catch, and straight through onto goal. Eoin Cody’s point on top of that, a huge swing.”
Indeed Reid did was Reid does best throughout, finishing with 0-9, one from play, with all six Ballyhale forward chipping in, including three each from Adrian Mullen and Brian Cody.
St Mullins, in contrast, just couldn’t find any sort of similar spread. Marty Kavanagh was at his mercurial best again, finishing with 0-12, including three from play, but with only Jason O’Neill and James Doyle scoring 0-3 between them, that was never going to be enough to halt Ballyhale, who finished with nine different scores in all, including substitute Mark Aylward.
Still it was another brave and wholesome effort from the south Carlow club, who never once stood back or down from their more esteemed opponents. Kavanagh had them briefly in front 12 minutes into the first half with his first from play before Reid soon squared it up again, after which Ballyhale never looked back.
“We were very happy with the first half, four points down, and we gifted them three points,” said St Mullins manager Niall O’Donnell. “We weren’t happy with that, and overall really disappointed with the result. We came up believing we could win, but the goal was the real killer, a six-point turnaround, and there’s no way the scoreline is a true reflection of the match.
“Lots of people thought his game would be over after 10 minutes, and I’d say come the semi-final, Ballyhale will be grateful for that game, we tested them, and look they’re a great team. They do the simple things well all the time. Two months ago, we were written off in Carlow, and we came to take on Ballyhale, and I really believed we could win. We’re very proud of the effort, and concede best team won.”
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: Dean Mason; D Corcoran, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin (0-1), M Fennelly (capt), B Butler; R Corcoran, C Phelan (0-1); A Mullen (0-3), B Cody (0-3), TJ Reid (0-9, eight frees); E Reid (0-1), C Fennelly (1-0), E Cody (0-2).
Subs: J Cuddihy for E Reid (43 mins), C Walsh for Phelan (46), G Butler for Corcoran (55), M Alyward (0-1) for E Cody (56), J Devereux for B Cody (60).
ST MULLINS: K Kehoe; J Doran, P Doyle, G Bennett; C Kavanagh, G Coady, O Boland; M Walsh, J Kavanagh; S Murphy, M Kavanagh (0-12, eight frees, one 65); P Walsh; J O’Neill (0-2, one sideline), J Doyle (0-1), P Boland
Subs: P Walsh for J Kavanagh (49 min), P Connors for Boland (55), J Murphy for C Kavanagh, O Ryan for Bennett (both 57), P Kehoe for O’Neill (60).
Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).