BY NIALL SHERRY
Dunloy battle well, but beaten by seven
AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final
Croke Park, Sunday 22nd January 2023
Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-22 Dunloy Cúchullains 1-15
A 9th All-Ireland club title was achieved by Shamrocks Ballyhale at Croke Park last weekend when the South Kilkenny side defeated Ulster champions Dunloy by seven points in a hard-fought encounter.
On a day when Adrian Mullen was cruelly ruled-out of the decider with a hamstring injury, it was one of his inter-county colleagues, Eoin Cody that stepped forward and showed just why he was twice-crowned young hurler of the year. The diminutive attacker was in inspirational form notching 1-5 as he helped propel his beloved club to victory at headquarters.
Having suffered horribly in last year’s decider against Ballygunner, there has been a steely determination from this Shamrocks panel, that righting that wrong was the only target for this season. This certainly wasn’t vintage Shamrocks hurling, but the result was always going to be more important that the performance.
The game started with TJ’s first ‘65 of the day dropping short, but some good recycling by the Shamrocks saw Joey Cuddihy register the opening score of the day. The Antrim and Ulster champions response was emphatic. Keelan Molloy sent in a lovely ball that was collected by full-forward Conal Cunning. Dunloy’s ace marksman cut inside Joey Holden before popping a pass to the on-running Ronan Molloy who rifled a fierce shot across Dean Mason to the Shamrocks net. The Dunloy faithful in the stands were in ecstasy.
Pat Hoban’s men were level by the 5th minute. Firstly, Colin Fennelly pointed after great work from Adrian Mullen’s replacement Niall Shortall. TJ then pointed from the touchline under the Hogan Stand before he edged his side ahead with a ‘65 following good pressure on the Dunloy keeper Ryan Elliott. The young Dunloy netminder then made a great save to prevent Eoin Cody from raising a green flag with eleven minutes played.
The next two scores came from Gregory O’Kane’s men, the first from his captain Paul Shiels then a stunning effort from corner-back Oran Quinn who seemed to waltz through the Shamrocks defence before pointing to edge his side ahead on 14 minutes.
Then in the fifteenth minute Eoin Cody struck for his sides major. Cody himself picked up a loose sideline cut from Dunloy before sending in a pass towards Eoin Kenneally and Colin Fennelly. The veteran forward battled to win possession before intelligently finding Eoin Cody with a nice hand-pass. Cody managed to reach the sliotar before keeper Elliott and finish to the net to leave Shamrocks ahead by two.
The Antrim men tagged on the next couple of points before SETU Carlow student Cody struck two on the bounce including a nice one off his left-side. Conal Cunning’s accuracy from the placed ball was keeping his side in touch and his latest effort from distance was a fine score. Cody was denied a second major when Ryan Elliott again got the better of their duel after Colin Fennelly had again slipped in Cody for a batted strike on goal. TJ popped over a free before Fennelly and Cody combined again for another quality score to extend the Kilkenny side’s lead to 4 points. The final two points of a keenly contested opening period came from Dunloy with Seaan Elliott and Cunning registering to leave the half-time score Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-9, Dunloy Cúchullains 1-7. Despite having more possession in the opening half, O’Kane’s men trailed by two at the short whistle.
Like the opening period, Shamrocks opened the scoring when play resumed. Golod work from Joe Cuddihy saw TJ Reid slot over a ‘65. Again, the Ulster side hit back with another free from Cunning, this time after Evan Shefflin was blown up. Eoin Kenneally then struck over a wonderful score from under the Cusack stand before TJ fired over a nice point from play, the 3-point gap restored.
TJ Reid and Conal Cunning swapped points before Keelan Molloy landed a lovely score, following a badly executed sideline cut from Shamrocks. Paddy Mullen then saw yellow for a foul which Cunning punished to leave the gap down to just 1 point. With 45 minutes of action, the worrying stat for Pat Hoban’s men was that they had registered 7 wides to Dunloy’s two. No wonder Shamrocks couldn’t shake the Ulstermen off.
Colin Fennelly who had been a constant thorn in the Dunloy defence then won a free which TJ converted, before an error from the same player led to Ronan Molloy striking over a point to reduce the Kilkenny sides lead to one point. Pat Hoban then made another change with injury plagued Brian Cody replacing young Niall Shortall. Eoin Cody then notched another point following a lovely pass by captain Ronan Corcoran.
Paddy Mullen then benefited from some fine work by Eoin Cody before sending over a fine point before some great battling by TJ allowed Corner-back Killian Corcoran to take a sweet score. Colin Fennelly now roaming a little deeper out the Croker pitch then rifled over a beautiful point from distance to push the Shamrocks lead out to 5 points.
Paul Shiels then did likewise from distance before Cunning struck over a free from around ½ way for what was to be the Ulster champions last score of the game. Darren Mullen introduced in place of young Killian Corcoran played a nice pass to Eoin Cody who registered his 5th point of the day as the game entered additional time.
Shamrocks used their experience and superior fitness to tag on a further three scores from captain Ronan Corcoran, sub Brian Cody and wing-back Darragh Corcoran. When Limerick whistler Johnny Murphy sounded the long whistle, Shamrocks Ballyhale were All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Champions for an unbelievable 9th time on a scoreline of 1-22 to 1-15.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Joey Holden, Brian Butler; Richie Reid; Evan Shefflin (0-01), Killian Corcoran (0-01), Darragh Corcoran (0-01); Ronan Corcoran (0-01), Paddy Mullen (0-01); Joey Cuddihy (0-01), TJ Reid (0-07, 0-03f, 0-03 65), Niall Shortall; Eoin Kenneally (0-01), Colin Fennelly (0-02), Eoin Cody (1-05)
Subs: Brian Cody (0-01) for Shortall 51, Darren Mullen for Killian Corcoran 59.
Dunloy Cuchullains: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn (0-01); Kevin Molloy; Eamon Smyth (0-01), Eoin McFerran, Conor Kinsella; Keelan Molloy (0-01), Paul Shiels (0-02); Nigel Elliott, Nicky McKeague (0-01), Ronan Molloy (1-01); Seaan Elliott (0-01), Conal Cunning (0-07, 0-07f).
Subs: Decky Smith for McKeague 45, Chrissy McMahon for Nigel Elliott 54.
Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
So what more is there to say about Shamrocks Ballyhale? You are always very wary of the underdog, sometimes they can bite you in the, well you know.
Having witnessed Ballygunner’s robbery last February at the Jones’s Road venue, I for one refused to believe that there could be any other outcome to last weekend’s decider that didn’t involve a win for Pat Hoban’s men.
This game was a right ding-dong battle for 50 minutes. As I mentioned, Shamrocks just couldn’t shake off the Antrim side. Dunloy can be proud of their efforts. To be honest the scoreline probably didn’t reflect the titanic performance that Gregory O’Kane’s side produced.
I was gutted that we didn’t get to see Adrian Mullen in action. The former Cats captain has been one of the standout performers in the Shamrocks run to glory this season. Having said that, the Croke Park surface was very poor and not conducive to niggling muscle injuries. Perhaps time for a re-think on what matches are held at headquarters in such condensed calendars.
Eoin Cody. Lively, constructive, battling, skillful, accurate. In short excellent. Eoin looked really sharp and stepped up to show the hurling world just what he is all about. Make no mistake, Eoin Cody is up there with the best forwards around at present.
Yet again Colin Fennelly produced another performance worthy of high praise. There are very few No.14’s around that offer you his skillset. He must be an absolute nightmare to mark. His strength, his ability to win ‘dirty ball’ and his awareness the being others into play is superb. Have a word Derek.
As Eoin Cody alluded to in his interview afterwards with TG4, Joey Holden is another who has been instrumental in Shamrocks County and provincial defences, and ultimately their 9th All-Ireland club title. We wish Joey safe travels around South America, you certainly have earned the break!
At the final whistle TJ sought out Joey and ran to him to celebrate. TJ knows.
Congratulations Shamrocks Ballyhale. What a club. Enjoy the celebrations.