BY NIALL SHERRY
Kilmacud rattle Ballyhale in provincial tussle
AIB Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship Final
Croke Park, Dublin
Shamrocks Ballyhale 2-22
Kilmacud Crokes 2-19
Kilkenny’s finest, Shamrocks Ballyhale survived a stunning second-half comeback Kilmacud Crokes comeback to seal a 12th Leinster title and in doing so, set up a mouth-watering clash with current All-Ireland holders, Ballygunner in a weeks’ time.
With a seemingly unassailable 14-point lead gained by the 33rd minute, the back-to-back Dublin champions hurled with no fear as they set about reeling in the Shamrocks lead. But for the brilliance of Goalkeeper Dean Mason, this result could have easily gone the way of Kilmacud.
Kieran Dowling’s charges registered 1-7 without reply, including a goal for captain Caolan Conway, but it would be Alex Considine’s green flag raiser on 47 minutes that left the Kilkenny side leading by the bear minimum. Ballyhale’s experience and nous saw them build a 3-point lead which they club to until the long whistle sounded.
Pat Hoban’s men ran out onto the Croke Park turf determined to secure victory and another crack at Waterford and Munster kingpin’s Ballygunner and did so without the services of their captain, Ronan Corcoran, who was missing through injury.
Kilmacud’s top scorer Oisin O’Rorke opened the scoring with a ‘65 in just the second minute of play, before Shamrocks struck two wides via Evan Shefflin and Adrian Mullen. Veteran TJ Reid got the scoreboard moving for his side in the 5th minute when we struck over a long-range free. TJ then turned provider, as he set-up the hugely impressive Adrian Mullen for the first of his four points.
The Dublin side responded with a lovely point from late addition to the starting XV, Alex Considine out on the left. Dublin player Fergal Whitley then produced a penetrating run before splitting the posts to edge the men from the Captial ahead. Eoin Cody then went on a nice run before off-loading to his full-forward, Colin Fennelly, who saw his initial effort blocked before he recycled the ball and popped over a good point. From the Crokes puck-out, Eoin Cody secured possession and fired over fine point, un marked underneath the Cusack stand.
Ballyhale were certainly being more direct in their approach. A long ball out of defence saw Colin Fennelly win the ball and scan for options around him. The big No.14 passed to Adrian Mullen who swung over a lovely point to put his team two points ahead. Mullen was then adjudged to have fouled Fergal Whitley, but uncharacteristically, Oisin O’Rorke pulled his effort wide of the Shamrocks posts.
The next score was pure TJ. The newly blessed Father rose highest to claim the sliotar before wheeling away and striking over an excellent score. Corner-back Killian Corcoran was then fouled deep in his own half. TJ stepped up and struck over a monster of a placed ball to send his side 4-points clear. Niall Shortall then rifled over a lovely point, again having found himself in acres of space. From the puck-out, Shamrocks pressed their opponents and some great pressure from Eoin Cody saw Crokes foul the ball, which TJ punished to stretch the Kilkenny sides lead to six points.
The first of four green flags raised on the day came in the 24th minute. TJ again, took a superb catch before passing to Colin Fennelly. Colin shipped the sliotar to Eoin Cody whose goal attempt was blocked by Crokes keeper. Just as it seemed that Robert O’Loughlin was about to secure possession and clear, Fennelly batted the ball to the net and Shamrocks led by 9 points.
Shamrocks would also get the next two score’s – the first came when Joe Cuddihy won the ball and was forced to retreat. Hor laid the ball back to Richie Reid who struck a brilliant effort from half-way. Richie then picked up the ball following a nice turnover. He gave a nice hand pass to Adrian Mullen who wasted no time in striking a glorious point from tight to the sideline from round-a-bout half way. Magnificent.
Oisin O’Rourke then broke a long scoring drought for the Dublin side from a placed ball, after Joey Holden was harshly booked for a tackle on Ronan Hayes. The Stillorgan based club registered the next score also, this time following a bad pass from TJ. Fergal Whitley intercepted Reid’s pass and set-off on a mazy run showing pace and skill as he stayed in control of the sliotar before he batted over a beautiful point for his sides 5th of the day.
Colin Fennelly who had been on the end of a lot of ball for the Shamrocks, then won possession before passing to the supporting Eoin Kenneally. The rangy forward had the presence of mind when surrounded to lay the ball off to TJ who popped over another fine point. Adrian Mullen was then booked by ref Paud O’Dwyer and O’Rorke dispatched the free between the posts. Eoin Cody then took a nice catch and turned on the pace to get away from the Crokes defence. Cody passed to Fennelly and the latter pointed to make it a 10-point game.
Kilmacud corner forward Dara Purcell then pointed a lovely score from out on the right. Two more scores would come before the short whistle. From another bad Crokes puck-out, Eoin Cody sent over a sumptuous score from the right-side, this was followed by Fennelly’s 3rd of the game. The veteran forward showed strength and composure before striking over. Half-time score, Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-15, Kilmacud Crokes 0-7.
That was a good half of hurling from the Kilkenny side. The pressure, intensity and hunger was there from the start. No repeat of the opening period in the Nass game.
The second period started with Shamrocks further asserting their authority on the game. Darragh Corcoran gave a nice pass to his midfielder Paddy Mullen and the latter sent over a fine point. Paddy then became creator for his sides next score. Having picked up the sliotar out on the right, he looked up and sent a lovely cross-field pass to brother Adrian who finished with aplomb. Niall Shortall then notched his second point of the day to leave Ballyhale with a commanding 14-point lead.
Paddy Mullan was then blown-up for a rather obvious push on is opponent. Oisin O’Rorke stood over the free and given the margin by which his side trailed, went for goal. His effort was blocked and as Shamrocks looked to work the ball out of defence, Evan Shefflin’s pass was read by Ronan Hayes. The Inter- County star slipped a nice pass to the on-running Caolan Conway who gave the diving Dean Mason no chance. The gap was back to 11-points, no immediate signs of the storm that was to come from Crokes.
Darragh Corcoran was then booked for halting the run of Fergal Whitley and O’Rorke popped over the resulting free. Dara Purcell then produced some lovely play before sending over a fine point, before notching another shortly after. Kilmacud midfielder Micheal Roche then got a fine point from distance before the main marksman Oisin O’Rorke rifled over a lovely point from play. The gap was now down to just 2 scores.
Paddy Mullan then joined his brother Adrian in the referee’s notebook on 42 minutes as Shamrocks struggled to quell the Crokes threat. O’Rorke popped over the free awarded and then Dara Purcell added another fine point to his tally. It was all Kilmacud. Ballyhale were struggling to retain possession, as the wind really began to have an influence on the game. Adrian Mullen was then stopped illegally in his tracks and TJ Reid slotted the placed ball over the bar for a much-needed score for the Kilkenny side.
Dean Mason was then called into action again, this time denying a certain goal for the impressive Alex Considine with a brilliant piece of net-minding. Oisin O’Rorke scored from the resulting ‘65. The Ballyhale lead was reduced to just one point in the 47th minute when a long ball out of the Crokes defence was diverted off Joey Holden into the path of that man Considine who beat Darren Mullen to the ball before striking a cracking shot across Dean Mason and into the back of the Shamrocks net. It was now a 1-point game, and the Leinster title was up for grabs.
Pat Hoban’s men needed a score to settle the ever-growing nerves and luckily for them Joey Cuddihy struck from distance before a real slice of luck came their way.
Dean Mason drove a puck-out deep into Crokes territory that appeared to deflect of Joey Cuddihy and was collected by Eoin Kenneally who then sent a testing ball into the Crokes danger zone. Niall Shortall rose along the Kilmacud full-back, but the sliotar evaded both those players and the helpless goalkeeper Eddie Gibbons behind them for Ballyhale’s second major of the day. The gap was now 5 points.
The lively Dara Purcell struck his 5th point of the day but Shamrocks struck back immediately via a nice point from TJ. Oisin O’Rorke then notched his eighth point of the game and 7th placed ball before Dean Mason made another fine save, again denying the pacey Considine. Young midfielder Brian Hayes made a surging run through the middle of the park before splitting the posts with a fine score having taken the pass from his brother Ronan.
Eoin Cody was then upended which allowed TJ to match Oisin O’Rorke’s 8-point tally. The last score of the game came from Ronan Hayes, his only point of the day. Paud O’Dwyer then blew for full-time. Agony for the Dublin side, pure relief for Pat Hoban’s men. Final score, Shamrocks Ballyhale 2-22, Kilmacud Crokes 2-19.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: T.J. Reid (0-8, 5 frees); C. Fennelly (1-3); A. Mullen (0-4); E. Kenneally (1-0); E. Cody, N. Shortall (0-2 each); R. Reid, P. Mullen, J. Cuddihy (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilmacud Crokes: O. O’Rorke (0-8, 5 frees, 2 65s); D. Purcell (0-5); A. Considine (1-1); C. Conway (1-0); F. Whitely (0-2); M. Roche, B. Hayes, R. Hayes (0-1 each).
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: D. Mason; K. Corcoran, J. Holden, D. Mullen; E. Shefflin, R. Reid, D. Corcoran; A Mullen, P. Mullen; E. Kenneally, T.J. Reid, E. Cody; N. Shortall, C. Fennelly, J. Cuddihy.
KILMACUD CROKES: E. Gibbons; C. Mac Gabhann, D. Butler, B. Sheehy; R. O’Loughlin, M. Grogan, C. Ó Cathasaigh; B. Hayes, D. Purcell; C. Conway, R. Hayes, F. Whitely; A. Considine, O. O’Rorke, M. Roche.
Subs for Kilmacud Crokes: B. Scanlan for C. Conway (52); B. O’Carroll for M. Grogan (temp 54-58); S. Purcell for M. Roche (58).
Referee: P. O’Dwyer (Carlow).
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Relief. Pure relief for Shamrocks Ballyhale. I didn’t sense much euphoria at securing a 4th Leinster title on the bounce at the full-time whistle. Even when injured captain Ronan Corcoran lifted the O’Neill Cup, there was definitely more of a feeling of “That won’t be good enough to beat Ballygunner” in the air.
Manager Pat Hoban alluded to this afterwards when speaking to the media. It’s going to be a big final week’s preparation of the All-Ireland semi-final. You’d imagine it won’t be taxing physically, but mentally this Shamrocks side will need to sharpen-up ahead of the game with Waterford and Munster champions.
Having their captain on the pitch next day out will be crucial. I think it’s fair to say Ballyhale are a better outfit with Ronan Corcoran in the starting XV.
Before accepting his MOTM award from TG4, Colin Fennelly spoke about this game being a ‘rude awakening’ for the Kilkenny champions. Fennelly was a great out ball for his side, especially in the first half, hitting 1-3 in aid the Ballyhale cause.
Adrian Mullen was once again outstanding for his side. The scorer of 0-4 on the day, his 3rd point was savage. He will need to produce a similar display next week.
The wide count will be worrying for Pat Hoban and his management team, I think it was something like 18 for Na Seamróga. Yes, conditions played a part, but they will want to lower this statistic next time out.
A word on Kilmacud Crokes. They showed tremendous fight and ability during the 2nd half, and but for Dean Mason, the result could well have been a little different. I don’t think this will be their last provincial final.
Let’s hope the Shamrocks lads recover and bring the battle to Ballygunner. It should be one hell of a semi-final, and there’s no doubting that the winner of this tie will be huge favourites come All-Ireland Final day in January.