BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Six goal Shamrocks cruise to Leinster glory
AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Championship Final, Croke Park 19.12.21
Shamrocks Ballyhale (Kilkenny) 6-23 Clough Ballacolla (Laois) 0-14
Shamrocks Ballyhale laid down a huge marker as their bid for yet another All-Ireland club title gathered serious pace at headquarters last Sunday.
Having seen off the challenges of Mount Leinster Rangers and St Rynagh’s in the earlier provincial rounds, James O’Connor’s men put on their best display of the season to date to claim a 3rd Leinster title on the bounce.
Goals win games, and Shamrocks had six of the best as they showed their undoubted clash in dismantling the Laois Champions.
Coming into the final, all the talk outside of Kilkenny, was the impressive form of Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher, who had amassed a serious personal tally – 5-72 in Clough/Ballacolla’s run to the provisional decider. In the wide-open spaces of Croke Park, Picky was never afforded the time and space necessary to show his talent as Darren Mullen did an exceptional man-marking job on the Laois dangerman as he was held scoreless from play. Maher’s only scores would come via three placed balls.
The Kilkenny champions opened their account in the first minute, when Colin Fennelly was fouled and TJ slotted over from close to the sideline under the Hogan stand. The Laois champions responded a minute later when their newly-wed star, Willie Dunphy hit a lovely point from long-range to level things up.
Then on three minutes, a long ball into the danger zone saw Brian Cody win possession under pressure. somehow, he managed to prod the ball in the direction of the supporting Eoin Cody, who picked it up, before dispatching it unerringly to the back of the net for his side’s first major of the day. A couple of minutes later, there was a slight scare for Ballyhale when TJ Reid appeared to catch his studs in the turf when nudged to the ground. Thankfully, after a little attention from the medical team, he was ok to resume action.
Clough/Ballacolla then fired three unanswered points thanks to scores from Lee Cleere, Willie Dunphy and the best of the bunch, a long-range beauty from midfielder Aidan Corby. The game was tied, 0-4 to 1-1. Paddy Mullen was then fouled, which allowed TJ to pop over another score to put his side one up. Good pressure from TJ saw Shamrocks awarded a sideline cut, which Eoin Cody fired in towards the ‘21. TJ won possession before being fouled. TJ struck the placed ball over.
From the puck out, Aidan Corby grabbed the ball on the run before striking over another lovely score on the run. The same player repeated the feat moments later – his radar was definitely in! Paddy Mullen then saw his name in the book following a dangerous challenge on 16 minutes. Joey Holden then picked out Eoin Cody with a lovely pass. Cody cut inside his man, before striking over a nice score. Shamrocks 1-up at the first water break, 1-4 to 0-6.
The first score of the 2nd period would be a Ballyhale one. Nice play on the sideline, saw Adrian Mullen pick out Eoin Kenneally, who ran straight for goal, before being halted in his tracks illegally. TJ punished the foul. Adrian Mullen was then harshly adjudged to have fouled Robbie Phelan. Picky took the free and fired it over from his own half, for his first score of the final in the 20th minute. From Dean Mason’s puck out, Paddy Mullen collected the ball out on the left and fired over a well taken score.
Adrian Mullen then took a pass in his own half before arrowing a lovely pass in on top of TJ, who saw his captain get away from his marker. TJ beat the full-back with his pass, Colin Fennelly collected the ball and made no mistake as he fired the ball past the Clough/Ballacolla keeper Dunne. The Laois men, stung from conceding a second major responded with two quick-fire points from than man Aidan Corby and full-forward Willie Dunphy. Colin Fennelly then caught opposition full-back Darren Maher in possession, turned him over and sprinted towards goal. Despite coming under pressure from three defenders, the captain somehow managed to flick the ball over the advancing keeper and into the net! What a tremendous piece of skill! Shamrocks now led 3-6 to 0-9 after just 24 minutes.
Ronan Corcoran then got in on the scoring when he struck over a lovely score from half-way. Anything Aidan Corby could do… Ronan could do too! Fennelly then wasted a glorious chance of a first half hat-trick of goals, when once again he collected the ball, before beating his marker with ease and heading for goal. On this occasion, the skipper just pulled his shot wide of the left-hand post. The Shamrocks No.14 was in the action again, just moments later, when he was again picked out by his defenders. This time he hand-passed to Kenneally who’s mindset was to go towards goal. The rangy forward was held up, but had the presence of mind to off-load to his captain, who popped the ball between the posts.
Clough/Ballacolla were then awarded a free on half way which Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher struck over from half-way for his side’s tenth point of the game. Ronan Corcoran then struck his 2nd point of the day after a nice lay-off from TJ. Eoin Cody then got on some dirty ball in his own half, before drawing the foul. TJ stepped up and fired it over from just inside his own half. Referee Richie Fitzsimons then blew for the end to a Ballyhale dominated 1st half; James O’Connor’s men led 3-11 to 0-10 at the short whistle.
This was probably the most consistent 1st half of hurling that Ballyhale had produced this season. There was a constant goal threat. They scored three, but honestly, they could have had a couple more. The Laois champions main threat, Picky Maher had been kept ‘Bjork like’ – Oh so quiet, if you know what I mean. The reason for this – a fine man-marking job by Darren Mullen, who was enjoying this important role. Richie Reid, was picking up lots of loose ball and keeping his defence very much on top of their attacking opponents. For Clough/Ballacolla, they were best served in the first half by Aidan Corby, scorer of 4 lovely points and the hard-working Lee Cleere in defence.
When play resumed, Clough/Ballacolla had the chance for a settling early score when the referee awarded them a free for a push. Unfortunately, for the Laois champions, Picky Maher pushed his free just wide of the posts. Shamrocks did likewise themselves just after, when Darragh Corcoran fired wide having been picked out by Brian Cody.
Darragh Corcoran then fired in a lovely pass from the sideline to find Eoin Kenneally, who turned beautifully, before splitting the posts with a nice strike for the first score of the second half. Picky Maher then made amends for his earlier miss, when he pointed from a placed ball moments later.
Clough/Ballacolla full-back Darren Maher was then withdrawn from the action on 35 minutes, much to his relief I’m sure, as he never got to grips with Ballyhale captain Colin Fennelly, scorer of 2-1 in the first half.
A long ball into the Shamrocks defence looked as if it might cause a problem, but not with Joey Holden around. The full-back read the ball well before emerging under pressure and minus his hurl. Joey hand-passed to Darren Mullen, who batted a low pass to Darragh Corcoran. The wing-back then slipped the ball to Patrick Mullen, who angled a long pass towards TJ Reid. The ball broke to Adrian Mullen who picked it up before firing low past the helpless Cathal Dunne for his sides 4th major of the day, Shamrocks now led 4-12 to 0-11.
The Laois Champions were reeling. They needed goals to get back in touch with their opponents. They secured possession, before picking out Willie Dunphy just inside the ‘D’. The full-forward only had eyes for goal. He collected the pass before striking for goal, but Ballyhale keeper Dean Mason wasn’t to be beaten. The netminder saved the shot before passing to Richie Reid, who looked up and fired a pass to Adrian Mullen, who stepped inside before finding his county team mate Eoin Cody with a lovely pass. The Shamrocks No.15 slipped a pass to the advancing Brian Cody whose low shot took a deflection and wrong-footed the Clough/Ballacolla keeper for goal number FIVE.
Some nice defensive play by Ballyhale saw Darragh Corcoran emerge with possession before striding forward and passing toward Ronan. The ball was cleared straight back to the wing-back who fired over a lovely point from out on the left. Clough/Ballacolla came again – but more outstanding defending from Richie Reid denied them. Eoin Cody then took possession of the ball before going on a run into the danger zone. Before getting bottled up, he passed to Brian Cody who slotted over for another point.
That man Richie Reid then won a ball before being fouled by Robbie Phelan, just inside his own ‘65. TJ stepped up and did what TJ does – punished the indiscretion. The referee then blew for the second water break, Shamrocks leading 5-15 to 0-12. This was the cue for TJ to rest up. He was replaced by his brother Eoin.
The first action after the short stoppage was a long range free on half way. With TJ withdrawn, Eoin Cody stepped up and fired over a lovely score from the placed ball. The same player took another nice score having won possession from a Clough/Ballacolla puck out. Jordan Walshe did manage to stem the Shamrocks tide, by firing over a nice point from way out the field.
From the puck out, Adrian Mullen ran onto an Eoin Cody flick before passing to Colin Fennelly, who couldn’t take the pass and complete his 3rd major. A huge let-off for the Laois champions. To their credit, Clough/Ballacolla tried to respond, but the danger was averted by a combination of Dean Mason and, yes Richie Reid. His pass found Ronan Corcoran who fired his pass towards Eoin Reid, who cleverly flicked the ball past Cathal Dunne in the opposition goal. Goal number SIX, fifty-two minutes gone, Shamrocks home and hosed, 6-17 to 0-13.
Richie Reid then won possession close to the sideline under the Hogan stand, he struck his pass away, before being crudely taken out of it by Clough/Ballacolla centre-forward Jordan Walshe, who cut a frustrated figure when receiving his yellow card. Eoin Cody stepped up and slotted over the free. From the puck out, Shamrocks collected the ball through Adrian Mullen, who passed to Eoin Cody – and yes, you guessed it, Eoin split the posts. Substitute Conor Phelan was then fouled high by Stephen Picky Maher on half-way. Eoin Cody fired over the resultant free. TJ who?
Cillian Dunne then struck a lovely score to keep his side honest. Colin Fennelly then almost set up a goal for star attacker Eoin Cody, but the latter saw his effort deflected behind for a ‘65, which surprisingly he rifled just wide. Richie Reid then found his brother Eoin who fired over a lovely point. More good work from Adrian Mullen saw Brian Cody collect the ball before firing over from long-range.
There was still time for one more point. Great play from Colin Fennelly and Adrian Mullen saw the ball arrive with substitute Liam Barron who popped his shot between the posts. Offaly whistler Richie Fitzsimons blew for full-time on the puck out. Job done in emphatic style. An eleventh provincial title secured. Final score, Shamrocks Ballyhale 6-23, Clough/Ballacolla 0-14.
SHERRY SAYS MOTM –
A classy hurler. Reads the danger, snuffs it out and sets the tone going forward. Immense throughout.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Kevin Mullen; Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran (0-01); Ronan Corcoran (0-04), Paddy Mullen (0-01); Eoin Cody (1-06, 0-03f), Brian Cody (1-01), Adrian Mullen (1-00); Eoin Kenneally (0-01), TJ Reid (0-06, 0-06f), Colin Fennelly (2-01).
Subs: Conor Phelan for Shefflin 42, Eoin Reid (1-01) for TJ Reid 47, Conor Walsh for Paddy Mullen 47, Brian Butler for Kevin Mullen 52, Liam Barron (0-01) for Kenneally 54.
Clough Ballacolla: Cathal Dunne; Diarmaid Conway, Darren Maher, Eoin Doyle; Brian Corby (0-01), Michael McEvoy, Lee Cleere (0-01); Willie Hyland, Aidan Corby (0-04); Stephen Bergin, Jordan Walshe (0-01), Mark Hennessy; Willie Dunphy (0-03), Robbie Phelan, Stephen Maher (0-03, 0-03f).
Subs: Cillian Dunne (0-01) for Hyland 42, John Dwyer for Bergin 46, Tom Delaney for McEvoy 47, Sean Corby for Hennessy 53.
Referee: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly)
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
As the Clough Ballacolla Twitter post said at full-time: “All over. Rumours of Ballyhale’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
An Eleventh Leinster title. Their 3rd in a row. Yes, they may have ridden their luck in the run to the provincial decider, but as Bainisteoir James O’Connor said afterwards “If you poke the bear enough times, he will awake.” Last Sunday at Croke Park, the Ballyhale bear awoke.
I would go as far as to say that this was vintage Ballyhale. From the first whistle to the final one, they never let up. Even when 20 odd points ahead, they hunted in packs, they never gave the Laois champions a second. The hunger was there for all to see. Defenders snapped into the tackle; men put their heads where many a man wouldn’t put a shovel. It was all on the line today and Shamrocks ensured that only one team was crossing this line as winners.
Such was their performance that Ballyhale afforded themselves the luxury of emptying the bench throughout the 2nd half.
Let’s talk about Mr. Reid. No, not TJ – Richie. The Shamrocks No.6 was immense throughout proceeding at headquarters. At times it looked like there were 5 or 6 Richie Reid’s on the hallowed turf of Croker. He was everywhere. His reading of the game was exceptional. Richie was like a ‘Dyson’, gliding around headquarters hoovering up any bits of danger that threatened their clean sheet. Anything that did go past him was mopped up by Joey.
Darren Mullen’s marking job on Picky Maher – top notch. The sharp-shooter never scored from play.
Again, midfielders Ronan Corcoran and Brian Cody were sensational. Show me a better 8 & 9 in club hurling. They also weighed in with 8 of their sides total.
If you had told me that TJ would be the 3rd top scorer for Shamrocks in the final, I’d have bet against you. Step forward Eoin Cody & Captain, Colin Fennelly. Eoin Cody is bubbling along nicely. He hit 1-6. IT Carlow will be dangerous with him in the Fitzgibbon.
Colin Fennelly got his reward on the scoreboard today for all his efforts in the county & provincial campaigns. His 2nd goal was skillful, clever and improvisation at its best.
While not winning any scoring competitions, Adrian Mullen’s performance was probably only second to MOTM Richie Reid. Some of his passing was exquisite. His desire and hunger to win possession when his opponent may be favourite to get the ball, is unreal. I love the way he can ‘mix it’. I like the edge to his game. By the way, Patrick & Kevin’s contribution to the victory was key as well.
Clough Ballacolla can be immensely proud of their efforts this year. Two County titles, a provincial final, not to be sniffed at. Willie Dunphy, unlike TJ can now head off on honeymoon.
Munster champions await, but that’s a matter for another day. Ballyhale can enjoy Christmas.