Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) 1-18 Kilmallock (Limerick) 1-6
Within seconds of the final whistle, Henry Shefflin removed his helmet to reveal that famous mop of hair. He didn't need a crown any longer. Hurling's most honoured player was again a winner on the Croke Park turf, only this time with his club as Kilkenny's Ballyhale Shamrocks claimed a sixth All-Ireland Club Hurling title with an emphatic 12 points win over Kilmallock of Limerick.
The gulf in class grew the longer this match went on, with TJ Reid playing a captain’s role in inspiring his side.
Reid contributed six points of Ballyhale's total but his influence went beyond the scoreboard as he covered virtually every sector of the pitch in winning ball and utilising it, with Colin Fennelly especially providing superb back-up.
Ballyhale led 1-7 to 0-4 at the half-time break but moved up the gears in the second half to impose their class on proceedings. To their credit, Kilmallock kept going right to the death – with the final act seeing Ballyhale stubbornly defending and emerging with the ball – but the Limerick and Munster champions’ cause was a lost one from a long way off.
Shefflin embodied Ballyhale’s spirit early in that second half when flicking the sliotar from the base of Mark O’Loughlin’s hurley and sending it over for the opening score of the half. It set the tone for Ballyhale’s supremacy and the Kilkenny kingpins at one stage recorded an unanswered sequence of five points as Kilmallock failed to rise to the challenge.
Kilmallock managed a late goal, from substitute Robbie Hanley, but it was merely consolation on a day when they were out-hurled and out-mastered by a Ballyhale side with no weak links.
In that first half, the real difference was in clinical finishing or lack thereof. Kilmallock accumulated no fewer than 10 wides, compared to Ballyhale’s four. When push came to shove, Ballyhale – from similar possession – made the most of the opportunities which came their way and none more decisive than their opening goal which arrived in the 26th minute.
At that stage, Ballyhale were narrowly ahead – 0-6 to 0-4 – when a long clearance was flicked on by Shefflin to his old comrade in arms Colin Fennelly. He didn't need a second invitation. Fennelly sprinted to the 20 metre line and unleashed a powerful strike that flew by Barry Hennessy before he could react.
Up to that goal, Kilmallock had given as good as they had taken. Except on the scoreboard. Once, in the third minute, the Limerickmen had the sliotar in the Ballyhale net; but, after referee James Owen had a lengthy consultation with his umpires, the goal was disallowed due to an infringement in the small square as goalkeeper Richie Reid attempted to play the ball.
On another occasion, in the 13th minute, Reid was required to make a good save from Graeme Mulcahy, who was quite the livewire. For the most part, though, the Ballyhale defence – with Joey Holden outstanding to the extent that Kilmallock full forward Kieran Kennelly was hauled ashore after 25 minutes to be replaced by teenager Paddy O'Loughlin – held firm.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: R Reid; K Nolan, J Holden, A Cuddihy (0-1); P Shefflin, M Fennelly, A Cummins; C Walsh, B Aylward (0-1); J Fitzpatrick, H Shefflin (0-2), TJ Reid (0-6, four frees); P Reid, C Fennelly (1-3), E Reid (0-3).
Subs: M Aylward (0-2) for P Reid (Half-time), T Coogan for Nolan, D Hoyne for Walsh (both 58 mins), M Dermody for P Shefflin (59 mins).
KILMALLOCK: B Hennessy; L Hurley, M O'Looughlin, A Costello; L Walsh, P O'Loughlin, K O'Donnell; B O'Sullivan, P O'Brien (0-1); J Mulcahy, G O'Mahony, R Egan (0-1); G Mulcahy (0-1), K Kenneally, E Ryan (0-3, three frees).
Subs: P O'Loughlin for Kenneally (25 mins), R Hanley (1-0) for Egan (44 mins), C Barry for O'Sullivan (57 mins).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).