BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Shamrocks bag 4-in-a-row in Gael force battle
St Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling Championship final @ UPMC Nowlan Park
Ballyhale Shamrocks 3-19
O’Loughlin Gaels 3-15
Shamrocks of Ballyhale are Kilkenny Senior Hurling Champions for the FOURTH year running.
James O’Connor’s men were made to work hard over the course of the 60-odd minutes, and at times it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Following their semi-final win over the Village, Shamrocks started the showpiece with Eoin Reid at corner forward and Kevin Mullen at corner back. O’Loughlin’s gave the impressive Robbie Buckley a starting berth following his showing against Tullaroan.
From the throw-in Shamrocks went on the offensive. County Captain Adrian Mullan played a lovely pass to Colin Fennelly, who ran bared down on the O’Loughlin’s goal, only to be held up by some last ditch defending, which resulted in a ‘65 to the champions. TJ stepped up and fired his first shot of the day between the posts to open the scoring in front of the raucous crowd in attendance.
Andy Comerford’s charges responded. Their championship top scorer, Mark Bergin tried for a point, but it took a touch of a Shamrocks player, and went behind for a ‘65. From this, Bergin’s effort dropped short, was missed by Richie Reid and deflected off keeper Dean Mason for another ‘65. Bergin would make no mistake from this placed ball. The sides were level on 4 minutes.
After some scrappy play, O’Loughlin’s left-half back Conor Heary struck a majestic long-range score, to continue his cracking form this season, one which see him elevated to gain county honours in the spring.
In the next move, Shamrocks moved the ball to Brian Cody who struck a great point from out the field, to tie the game after 7 minutes.
The first of six green flags would be raised less than a minute later. A great sideline cut from deep inside the O’Loughlin’s half was misjudged by Joey Holden. The ball broke to the ever-alert Robbie Buckley who darted through the gap, before off-loading to Owen Wall. The No. 13 took the pass before cutting inside his marker and blasted beyond Dean Mason to the net, giving his side a 3-point lead early on.
O’Loughlin’s looked ravenous, they hunted in packs, anything that moved they pounced on.
They won a sideline cut, which inspirational county-star Paddy Deegan attended to. Deegan played it short, before collecting the return pass and firing a lovely point from far-out on the right touchline. The Gaels smelt blood.
Ballyhale needed to settle. Adrian Mullen then found Colin Fennelly, who despite the attentions of a couple of opposition players slipped the pass back to Mullen, who fired over the bar to reduce the deficit. From the next play, Joey Holden burst out from the back and found the classy Ronan Corcoran in space. The rangy midfielder laid the ball off to Joe Cuddihy who took a lovely point to keep his side in touch.
Huw Lawlor then intercepted a pass and strode forward before passing to Mark Bergin. Bergin tried to race clear of the Shamrocks players in attendance, but as he went to shoot, referee Owen Beehan, adjudged Adrian Mullen to have pulled his arm. The accurate Bergin punished the foul and left three between the sides again. Referee Beehan then awarded Ballyhale a free over on the far sideline, which TJ duly knocked over the leave his side two points down at the first water break.
O’Loughlin’s would have been happy enough, 2 ahead at the end of the first period. They were winning most of the 50/50 exchanges and first to every breaking ball.
When play resumed, the city side won another sideline cut. In a carbon copy of an earlier one, No.14 Paddy Deegan went short to Robbie Buckley, who returned the pass and again Deegan fired over from an acute angle. The crowd roared. Deegan reveled in it.
A couple of minutes later, Richie Reid hit a low pass to the on-running Colin Fennelly. As the full-forward tried to gather possession, O’Loughlin’s full-back, Forristal was harshly blown for what appeared to be a soft enough foul. Tj struck it over to bring it back to a 2-point game.
From the puck-out Paddy Deegan, who had roamed deeper out the field took a fine pass from David Fogarty, who was winning his battle with Eoin Reid. Deegan scanned ahead and saw a cross-field run by goal scorer Owen Wall, and duly found the corner-forward who beat his man before notching the point.
Tj Reid then sprung from a posse of players before popping a pass to Richie on half-way, who made no mistake with a fine point. the city side’s keeper Murphy, then drove the ball far into Shamrocks territory. Owen Wall gathered before passing to Mark Bergin who could only shoot to the side netting.
Fennelly, dropped a little deeper in a bid to escape the clutches of Forristal, won possession and passed to the forward running Ronan Corcoran, who took a few steps and slotted over. Paddy Deegan then did likewise. He gathered possession from the puck-out before cutting in from the right touchline to fire over, once the angle was right.
In one of many little scrappy passages of play, Robbie Buckley collected the ball and tried to make headway, before being halted illegally by Brian Cody. Mark Bergin, again made the opposition pay as he swung over the free, the Gaels a goal to the good again.
Shamrocks then played a long ball in the direction of Eoin Cody, who had been struggling to get into the game. Cody Fielded the ball brilliantly, despite being held round the neck by his nearest marker, this was rightly blown up and TJ dispatched the free between the sticks.
Conor Heary then showed again, why many think he’s county material. Heary to possession, bounced off a couple of Shamrocks players before passing to Robbie Buckley. Eoin O’Shea then took over before popping the ball back to Heary, who drove a magnificent shot over the bar, from tight out on the touchline.
Some poor play saw a wayward cross-field pass make its way to the deadly Bergin, who dummied his marker, before firing between the posts. O’Loughlin’s now led by four and had the champions rattled. Comerford’s side went in search of another score. The ball was played to Paddy Deegan who when charging forward took a blow to the head area from Kevin Mullen’s Hurl. Luckily for Ballyhale, referee Beehan didn’t even see it as a foul and play continued.
Mark Bergin then snapped up possession on the break and advanced before stroking over a nice point to put his team 5 up. Shamrocks needed to hit back before the interval and they did. First up was TJ. He was found with a lovely pass from Ronan Corcoran and was never missing. Then just before the short whistle, Darragh Corcoran raced forward on the left-wing before striking a lovely point on the run.
Fenian’s ref, Beehan blew for half-time. O’Loughlin’s led by 3 points, 1-11 to 0-11, but it could have been so much better, had even half of their eight wides gone over. interestingly, they only had four scorers on the board, Shamrocks had seven.
When the second half got underway, Shamrocks searched for a score. Like the first period, they would open the scoring, thanks to TJ, who pointed from a free deep in his own half. The county veteran, then showed he is human, when his next attempt from play was just pulled wide. You could sense that James O’Connor has clearly asked his team to up their intensity and work-rate.
Jack Nolan then broke forward for the home side, before his run was curtailed by a couple of Ballyhale players, one of whom, Adrian Mullen was rather fortunate to escape unpunished when it appeared his knees made contact with the O’Loughlin’s midfielder while on the ground. Again, Bergin punished the indiscretion to restore their 3-point lead.
Ballyhale then struck. TJ launched a long probing ball into the danger zone. Eoin Reid won possession before striking for goal. His attempt was saved by captain and keeper Murphy, but the rebound fell to the on-rushing Joe Cuddihy, who said thank you very much. The sides were level. Game on.
O’Loughlin’s needed to steady the ship, but unfortunately for them, things were about to get worse.
Some sloppy play from Mikey Butler resulted in a sideline cut to the champions under the main stand. TJ took aim and fired the ball forward. Adrian Mullen who had been kept relatively quiet by the impressive Conor Heary, rose highest and produced a batted finish to hit the net. Shamrocks now led by 3.
Andy Comerford’s side looked shell-shocked. Eoin O’Shea then hot a lovely long-range effort to stop the rot. Ballyhale’s tails were up. Eoin Cody was then given a glimpse of goal. His well-struck shot was deflected behind by keeper Murphy. TJ stepped up and struck the ‘65 which the umpires signaled as a point after a slight delay.
As both sides tried to win possession, Jack Nolan emerged with the ball and headed for goal, before slipping a nice pass to Paddy Deegan who blasted to the net. The sides were level again. The crowd were being treated to a great county final.
Huw Lawlor then charged forward before passing to Deegan who in turn found the tricky Wall, who batted the ball over the bar to put his side back into the lead at the second water break.
O’Loughlin’s manager, Comerford was very animated during the short interval… he knew his side were in a great place.
Play resumed. Ballyhale centre –back, Richie Reid took a great catch before finding Joe Cuddihy. His lovely batted pass found the strong running Ronan Corcoran in lots of space on the left and he fired over another top score.
The city side then fashioned a goal chance. Paddy butler picked up possession and raced forward before unleashing his shot. Keeper Dean Mason took the sting off it, before Joey Holden on the line stood firm and collected the ball. This seemed to inspire the champions. Eoin Reid then dropped deep to win possession, he popped the pass to brother TJ, who notched a lovely score from play.
The Ballyhale midfield was winning the engine room battle. Ronan Corcoran won the ball before slipping it to his partner Brian Cody, who like in the first half, struck another great point from distance.
Rio then collected the ball following a mistake by David Fogarty and he duly punished the error by pointing. TJ then won a free which saw Jordan Molloy booked. Double punishment, TJ pointed the placed ball. Majestic midfielder Ronan Corcoran then struck his 3rd point, and possibly his best of the day shortly afterwards to leave his side up by 5.
Kevin Mullen then cleared out of defence towards the half–way line. in the ensuing scramble, his fellow corner-back partner, Brian Butler picked up the ball and travelled some 60 yards with great skill and balance before firing to the net. 53 minutes gone, Ballyhale up by EIGHT.
The Gaels needed goals, and quickly. Mark Bergin raced in on goal before his one-handed effort was batted away by Dean Mason. The drama wasn’t over. Second-half sub, Danny Loughnane burst through the middle before being upended by a combination of Shamrocks defenders. PENALTY! Darragh Corcoran got a yellow card for his troubles. Paddy Deegan stepped up and struck the penalty which was brilliantly saved by Dean Mason.
Deegan would make amends shortly afterwards, when another probing run by Loughnane saw him find Deegan who finished from a tight angle to the net. In the aftermath of the goal, Loughnane and Dean Mason were involved in a heated exchange, some would say handbags. The sub also through the ball at a defender before leaving the scene of the crime. Referee Beehan consulted with his umpires before issuing Loughnane with a red card.
In the closing seconds, O’Loughlin’s tried again to breach the Ballyhale net, but Jordan Molloy’s effort was a little too strong and sailed over the bar. Their race was run. Ballyhale had won. Next up – Carlow champions, Mount Leinster Rangers in two weeks’ time. The battle for Leinster continues.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
A County final befitting of Hurling’s most decorated county. Thankfully, this year the seats weren’t empty. The watching faithful were treated to a real spectacle. It was a game that swung both ways, O’Loughlin’s up by 5, Shamrocks 3 ahead, a drawn game.
Andy Comerford will have been very proud of his team’s effort on the day, but will no doubt rue the wide count and a very ‘old school’ approach to refereeing from Fenians clubman Owen Beehan.
On another day, in another county, more fouls would have been awarded. Kevin Mullen may have left the stage early when his hurl met the face of Paddy Deegan. Aside from that, I enjoyed watching two supremely talented sides go at it. The ref also appeared to enjoy the cut and thrust, the contact, the skirmishes. Like I say – ‘old school’.
Let’s talk about Paddy Deegan. Anyone unfamiliar with the inter-county defender, would have thought this was a seasoned inter-county forward at work. Make no mistake about it, Deegan is an exceptional hurler, whatever the position. His partnership with corner forward Owen Wall is a joy to watch. Wall, another who must be on the brink of senior county game time. His goal was delightful.
Huw Lawlor also excelled. The man on his left, Conor Heary – capped a fine season with a couple of stunning points, and also did a decent job on Adrian Mullen.
Now to the winners, the 4-in-a-row boys from Ballyhale. Panic never set in. Even when 4 or 5 points down, they kept the faith and executed their manager, James O’Connor’s plan perfectly. TJ again, led the way, in terms of scoring and leading by example. He often roamed deep inside his own half to help secure possession. Finishing the day with 0-9, TJ was once again unflappable, taking the hits as he bounced off players around the pitch.
Richie Reid was a dominant presence at No.6. protecting the area in front of his full-back line with an astute presence. In front of him were Messrs. Brian Cody and TG4’s man of the match Ronan Corcoran.
Cody hit two wonderful long-range points and with his partner, got through a lot of the ‘dirty work’. Ronan Corcoran was again, majestic. He was everywhere, and weighed in with 3 classy scores. The watching Mr. B Cody will no doubt have noted the developing influence Corcoran is on this Ballyhale machine.
Joe Cuddihy stepped up again and finished with 1-1, as did Adrian Mullen who isn’t shy of putting himself about!
The goal of day, however came from an unlikely source – corner-back Brian Butler. On 53 minutes, he collected the ball some 60 yards out from the O’Loughlin’s goal and showed great pace, balance and skill before striking past keeper Murphy. GAME, SET, MATCH SHAMROCKS!!
Afterwards, Captain and 2-time All-Star Colin Fennelly, announced that he wouldn’t be putting his lot in again with the county. What a servant. What a player. What a captain.
Comhghairdeas Na Seamróga!