BY NIALL SHERRY
Sash prevail as Shamrocks start to sizzle
Following a pulsating weekend of knock-out action, the semi-final line-up for the St Canice’s Credit Union senior championship is now known. More about that later.
O’Loughlin Gaels 2-19
The weekend action began with the meeting of O’Loughlin Gaels and Mullinavat in Ballyhale.
County defender Paddy Deegan lined out again at full-forward and is appearing to revel in orchestrating proceedings in the No. 14 jersey! When the going got tough in the final quarter, Deegan retreated to midfield to nullify the growing Mullinavat threat.
Indeed, it was Deegan that raised an early green flag for the Gaels, that sent them into a 1-2 to 0-2 lead after just 5 minutes. Mullinavat almost hit back immediately, only to be denied following a great save from Gael’s keeper, Stephen Murphy. The sides continued to exchange scores before the lively Owen Wall assisted Mark Bergin who took full advantage and doubled his side’s lead. The placed ball would be the source of most scores for both sides, with James Bergin (1-10) and John Walsh (0-10) displaying great accuracy from frees. It would be the two first half major’s that’s would be the difference on the long whistle, as Andy Comerford’s side avenged their league defeat to secure the first of the semi-final berths.
The bookies had Clara as favourites for this last eight clash at St John’s Park. Having reached the league final recently, Kevin Ryan’s side had been expected to progress from their clash with the Sash, but former county star, stalwart and legend, Tommy Walsh had different ideas!
This contest had a really championship feel about it, there was certainly an edge to it, both on and off the pitch. Those in attendance added to the bubbling atmosphere, and the players from both sides fed off this to produce arguably, the best clash of this year’s championship to date.
As both teams ‘sparred’ with each other, the sides were level at the first water break, 4 points apiece, and they could not be separated on four occasions in the first 20 minutes of play as the score board controller had a quiet start to their day. The teams reached the interval level, 8 points apiece.
Clara looked to have found the key when substitute Peter Nolan hit the net three minutes into the second half, but the Sash kept the score board ticking over to leave the sides tied once again at the second water break. The fear of knock-out hurling was clearly weighing heavily on players’ minds, as both teams were making uncharacteristic errors. Chris Bolger looked to have given Clara the upper hand when he raised his sides second green flag of the day, but this Tullaroan side never shy away from battle, and thanks to Shane Walsh’s accuracy from frees and an incredible display from his brother Padraig, the match went to extra-time. In the additional 20 minutes, it would be the Walsh household that drove the Sash to the semi’s registering all their sides scores, including a goal from Tommy.
James Stephens 2-16
Rivalling Tullaroan and Clara’s clash as game of the season, these two old derby foes served up a feast of hurling in the Autumn sunshine at UPMC Nowlan Park. Seamus Dwyer’s side got off to a great start, with a Tadhg O’Dwyer goal giving them the upper hand just before the end of the first quarter, but the Boro had other ideas. Goals in quick succession from Andy Gaffney and Aidan Nolan stunned the Village, before two further points, including one from Mark Nolan in his own half left Dicksboro four up, before a brace from Matthew Ruth kept his side within 2 points at the interval. The city sides continued to trade scores and it was the impressive Cian Kenny that kept the village in touch in a game in which they trailed for long parts. The introduction of experienced duo Eoin Larkin and Conor Browne appeared to lift the Village players and they drew level with 10 minutes remaining thanks again to the lively Kenny. Páraic Fanning must have thought his side had done enough to make the last four, thanks to points from Bill Sheehan and Robbie Fitzpatrick, but on an extraordinary day of hurling, corner-back Shane Donohue went on a mesmerizing run which culminated with the defender firing to the net in the 58th minute. Man of the match Cian Kenny then struck again and despite Gaffney’s late point it wasn’t to be for the Boro.
Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-27
Title holders Ballyhale signaled their intent to claim a 4th senior title in a row with a masterful second-half performance against newly-crowned league champions, Bennettsbridge.
The Shamrocks raced into an early 4-point lead thanks to scores from Eoin Cody, Colin Fennelly (2), Liam Barron and TJ Reid, with just a solitary Ciaran Brennan point the only score for the Bridge in the opening exchanges as the holders showed their teeth. To their credit, the league champions hung-in and scores from Nicky Cleere (2) and William Murphy, left just the minimum between the sides at the first water break. Ciaran Brennan then notched his second point before some slack Shamrocks defending allowed Jason Cleere the chance to goal, which he duly did. Eoin Cody and the again impressive Cuddihy replied with scores, before a third point from Brennan left the Bridge two points ahead after 20 minutes.
The sides traded scores for the remainder of the half, and at the short whistle, the sides could not be separated. Ballyhale emerged from the interval with more belief and the air of county, provincial and All-Ireland champions. They reeled of a 3-point salvo in the opening stages of the second period, and then continued to pick-off scores with ease, as champions do.
Shamrocks found themselves 7 points ahead at the second water break. The damage had been done.
Bennettesbridge would only score once from play in the second half, their four other scores came from placed balls. Such a scoring return was never going to deliver victory.
Ballyhale moved through the gears and had a 27-point total to show at the long whistle. While manager James O’Connor would perhaps have liked his side to raise a green flag or two, he will have been pleased with the showing, and possibly his sides most complete performance of the club season to date. Ominously, the Shamrocks march on.
St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny SHC semi-final draw:
Ballyhale Shamrocks v James Stephens
Tullaroan v O’Loughlin Gaels
(Ties to be played weekend of October 24)
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Championship hurling. Nothing like it. Fans were treated to four quarter-finals each with their own special ingredients.
Normally forwards steal the headlines, and we did have some great displays across the weekend, Eoin Cody, Joe Cuddihy, Cian Kenny, Shane Walsh, to name but a few.
But on this quarter-final weekend it would be players that we would normally associate with the art of defending that would steal the show.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paddy Deegan, Padraig & Tommy Walsh and Shane Donohue!
Mr. Deegan kicked things off on Saturday scoring 1-1, before dropping deeper to stem the rising Mullinavat tide.
Many fancied beaten league finalists Clara to end Tullaroan’s season, but the Sash backed by the Walsh’s ripped up that script. While former county star Tommy took was highlighted for nabbing a goal in extra-time to power his side ahead, it would be the performance of current inter-county No.6, Padraig that was the real driving force behind the perceived underdogs battle to reach the final four. As Padraig roamed forward, he notched 0-7 on the day. Not to be outdone by his siblings, forward star Shane weighed in with 0-12. Driving on the sash from wing-back was captain Martin. The Walsh men would contribute 23 points of their sides 32 total. Tullawalsh!
In the 58th minute of a championship quarter-final with your side 2 points down, it’s just your normal corner-back running up the field and raising a green flag with a finish that any forward would be proud of to send his side through against their derby rivals. Step forward James Stephens Shane Donohue.
Rounding off the weekend’s action was the clash of the current league and championship holders. Having beaten Shamrocks in the league a few weeks back, Bennettsbridge were intent on keeping their season going a little longer, while Ballyhale still have four-in-a-row on their minds.
Notice to all pretenders to their county crown – They haven’t gone away you know!
While the first half may have been a little bit of shadow boxing between the sides, Tj & co upped the ante and the tempo in the second half and pulled well clear of the Bridge. The attacking trio of Tj Reid, Eoin Cody and the fast-improving Joe Cuddihy contributed SIXTEEN of their teams total of twenty-seven. At the other end of the pitch, the pleasing aspect of the Shamrocks afternoon’s work, will have been that they restricted their opponents to just one point from play in the second period.
Like a fine wine, Ballyhale are maturing each and every year, and more worryingly, for the three remaining ‘pretenders’ it appears each and every game.