BY NIALL SHERRY
TJ Reid & Co. outclass The Village as Ballyhale make history!
St Canice’s Credit Union (Kilkenny) Senior Hurling Championship County Final
Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-21
James Stephens 2-11
UPMC Nowlan Park, 16th Ocotber 2022
History was made by Shamrocks Ballyhale last Sunday, as they claimed a first ever 5-in-a-row Kilkenny senior titles after seeing-off the challenge of James Stephens at a damp and breezy UPMC Nowlan Park.
Despite registering two majors on the day, The Village just couldn’t live with the small South Kilkenny side as Shamrocks joined Tullaroan on the twenty-title marker, in this, only their 50th year.
Ballyhale steadied the ship on a couple of occasions during the decider, recovering from a 1st half goal scored by Eoin Guilfoyle and then a bigger blow when midfielder Paddy Mullen saw red for an incident near the sideline having taken a wild swipe with the hurl. That’s what champions do, manage the game and the occasion.
James Stephens opened the scoring thanks to a nice point from Tadhg O’Dwyer after he turned Joey Holden inside out inside the first couple of minutes. The holders hit back on 3 minutes when TJ Reid scanned for options out on the left wing and as usual took the right option with a pass to late inclusion Joe Cuddihy who fired over a lovely point from tight to the sideline.
The game was scrappy during the opening exchanges, as The Village in particular were guilty of some bad wides. There was also a good battle developing between Colin Fennelly and his marker Dermot Cody, with no quarter given by either party.
TJ Reid then got his first of the day after collecting a long clearance from his keeper Dean Mason. Reid expertly turned his man, found a yard of space and struck a nice point from over his shoulder to edge Shamrocks ahead. Seamus Dwyer’s men then got their second point of the day in the 9th minute when Niall Brassil beat Darragh Corcoran to the ball before swinging over a cracking point from way out on the right to level matters. Not happy with this, Darragh turned provider for his captain Ronan Corcoran who rifled over a sweet score.
The Village almost created a goal scoring chance moments after, but Shamrocks closed ranks and cleared the danger. Paddy Mullen struck a huge clearance that Eoin Kenneally picked up and sprinted towards the opposition goal before unleashing a fierce shot that went just wide of the post. From the next passage of play Matthew Ruth took possession before passing to William Spencer who fired over a lovely point to make it three points apiece.
Adrian Mullen then showed some lovely footwork before sending over a mighty score from way out on the right touchline. Joe Cuddihy then saw yellow for what appeared to be an innocuous challenge on The Village full-back. Tadhg O’Dwyer then collected a fine pass from Cian Kenny before wriggling away from Joey Holden and batting over a lovely little point. The sides were level again, 4 each.
Things were about to get a whole lot better for the city side. Conor Browne sent a searching ball deep into the Shamrocks defence which Niall Brassil touched into the direction of the on-running Eoin Guilfoyle who raced away from Darren Mullen before striking an unstoppable shot past Dean Mason. The Village crowd roared, they dared to believe.
Ballyhale responded immediately with points from Colin Fennelly and TJ (‘65). TJ then added to his tally with a fine score from play after taking the sliotar from Adrian Mullen. TJ cut across the Nowlan Park pitch before batting over a sweet point. Adrian Mullen then sent Eoin Cody clear down the right and the speedy froward sent a fine point over.
TJ was then involved again when further scanning saw him pick-out his younger brother Richie who sent a lovely point over from about ‘60 metres out. Village full-back Dermot Cody was then shown a yellow for a clumsy challenge on Adrian Mullen and TJ punished this offence by slotting over the free. Eoin Cody then got his second of the day, from way out on the right.
Shamrocks had responded to conceding the goal by striking seven points on the bounce. From three points down to four ahead in the space of just over 10 minutes. That’s what champions do.
The last score of an intriguing first half came from James Stephens, a free converted by Niall Brassil after Evan Shefflin has blown-up for very little. The short whistle sounded, Shamrocks Ballyhale 0-11, James Stephens 1-5.
Seamus Dwyer’s men needed a fast start to the second half, and they got it, thanks to a monster score from distance from Niall Brassil. Shamrocks hit 2 wides, one from Eoin Cody, the other from Paddy Mullen, and Paddy’s afternoon was about to come to a premature end.
A little skirmish was developing along the touchline, Paddy Mullen tried to clear the ball up field, but was stopped in his first attempt, his second attempt was a wild swing of the hurl, which incensed The Village backroom team, particularly Peter Barry, who squared up to Mullen. Shamrocks trainer Niall Lacey pushed Barry away, but they wouldn’t see him avoid the ultimate punishment and he saw red.
It was a 2-point game, everything was on the line. Eoin Cody was then fouled by Niall Delaney – TJ applied the finish from the placed ball. A Niall Mullins clearance down field was intercepted by Richie Reid, who with calmness picked out Joe Cuddihy in space out on the left. Cuddihy took possession, turned and fired over a quality point. Shamrocks now led by 4.
Conor Browne then struck over a point from just outside the ‘45 to give his sides supporters some hope. Darren Mullen then fouled Matthew Ruth and Brassil popped over the free. Shamrocks nearly fashioned a goal chance, but referee Everard called play back for Cian Kenny’s foul on TJ. Reid pointed the free. Ronan Corcoran and Adrian Mullen then combined before TJ took the ball and played a fine low pass into Colion Fennelly who came round on the loop and fired over. TJ then took a fantastic catch, but the free awarded was unusually struck wide.
Then in about 60 seconds, a passage of play that summed up Shamrocks Ballyhale – some wonderful stick play from Adrian Mullen, more from Joe Cuddihy then the pass to the man in space – who fired over – Evan Shefflin. Pure hurling. Shefflin’s wing-back partner Darragh Corcoran then took a lovely pass from Eoin Cody before splitting the posts. Niall Brassil fired over from distance to reduce the arrears to 5 points.
Fifty-two minutes on the clock. The final nail was about to be hammered into The Village title challenge.
Adrian Mullen picked the ball up deep in his own half, played a long ball towards Eoin Cody, who flicked it towards Colin Fennelly. The veteran full-forward passed to substitute Niall Shortall who off-loaded to Eoin Cody who struck a low pass across the James Stephens goal where the awaiting Joe Cuddihy applied the low finished beyond Gavan Costigan in The Village goal. Ballyhale 8 points up. That’s what champions do.
Niall Brassil then sent over free from way out the Nowlan Park pitch, but like champions do, Shamrocks scored next, a fine point from Darragh Corcoran after nice work from Joe Cuddihy. Cian Kenny then got on the score sheet when he struck a sweet point from distance. Colin Fennelly then got his third point of the day, before a surging run from Adrian Mullen saw the former county captain lay the ball off to Eoin Cody who rifled over form the ‘65 line.
James Stephens kept plugging away and got a second goal thanks to a lovely finish from distance by Conor Browne, to make it a 6-point game. Moments later they nearly reduced the gap to 3, when a lovely pass across the Shamrocks goal was flicked off the post by sub Ross Whelan.
The final point of the game came from substitute Niall Shortall. Deep into injury time. Adrian Mullen played a nice pass close to the touchline which Shortall collected before beating 3 men with pace and skill, before sending over a stunning score to seal the win.
The final whistle then sounded with Shamrocks Ballyhale home and hosed, 1-21 to James Stephens 2-11.
Five senior county titles in-a-row. Twenty county titles in total since their formation in ‘72. That’s what champions do.
Scorers Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 0-6 (3f, 0-1 ‘65), E Cody 0-3, C Fennelly 0-3, J Cuddihy 1-2, R Corcoran 0-1, R Reid 0-1, A Mullen 0-1, E Shefflin 0-1, D Corcoran 0-2, N Shortall 0-1
Scorers James Stephens: E Guilfoyle 1-0, T O’Dwyer 0-2, N Brassil 0-5 (2f), W Spencer 0-1, A Parsons 0-1, C Browne 1-1, C Kenny 0-1
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS – D Mason; B Butler, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, R Reid, D Corcoran; R Corcoran, P Mullen; A Mullen, TJ Reid, E Kenneally; C Fennelly, E Cody, J Cuddihy.
Subs: N Shortall for Kenneally (47), K Corcoran for Cuddihy (62)
JAMES STEPHENS – G Costigan; L Murphy, D Cody, S Donoghue; N Delaney, C Kenny, N Mullins; W Spencer, C Browne; A Parsons, N Brassil, M Ruth; T O’Dwyer, E Guilfoyle, L Scanlon.
Subs: R Whelan for Ruth (49), D Hennessy for Parsons (55), E Butler for Scanlon (58)
REFEREE – Conor Everard (Graigue-Ballycallan)worthy of the Tom Walsh Cup decider.
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Shamrocks Ballyhale. Champions for the 20th time in this their 50th Anniversary. Senior Champions for a 5th time in a row, something that hasn’t been done in senior club hurling in the modern era.
When Eoin Guilfoyle poked the bear on 21 minutes with a well-taken goal, Pat Hoban’s charges scored the next seven points. Like I said, that’s what champions do.
James Stephens gave it a good go, but by the time Conor Browne raised their second green flag of the day, their race was run.
TJ Reid was rightly awarded player of the match, but he was in good company with excellent displays all over the pitch in green & white. Darragh Corcoran, Adrian Mullen, Joe Cuddihy, Richie Reid… the list goes on.
Some of TJ’s fielding was exceptional. It’s an absolute joy to watch. His ability to scan and select the best option is legendary – and this legend just keep’s delivering. When speaking to the media on the pitch afterwards, you could feel the emotion emanating from TJ.
We could debate the merits of Paddy Mullen’s red card. Some seem to say a yellow would have sufficed, others definite in the colour red. What I didn’t like was Peter Barry getting involved with Mullen on a couple of occasions during the incident. Matters like this should be left to the officials.
Captain Ronan Corcoran lifted the Tom Walsh Cup and gave a short but meaningful speech. He referenced those no longer with us from his Parish, a lovely touch as they dedicated the win to those families who lost loved ones over the last year.
A word also on Niall Shortall’s point – the last of the day. Stunning, simply stunning. The future is bright, it also seems to be green & white.
So, county matters have now been taken care of. Leinster awaits. That’s what champions do