BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Offaly champs miss chance as Ballyhale march on
Leinster Club SHC semi-final: Shamrocks Ballyhale 3-24 St Rynagh’s (Offaly) 2-18 (AET)
Tullamore was rocking last Sunday as Offaly champions St Rynagh’s almost claimed the scalp of the biggest name in club hurling. It was fitting that recently announced Young Hurler of the Year, Eoin Cody should be the man that lit the fuse and forced the game to extra time.
The in-form Luke O’Connor opened the scoring with an early point much to the delight of the home crowd, as he slotted over having recycled the ball well. The Offaly side were dealt a huge blow when full-back Pat Camon appeared to tear a hamstring when driving out of defence. The No.3 had to be replaced and some alterations were made to the XV to cover the defender’s loss.
Shamrocks registered their first score of the day through TJ Reid from a placed ball around with just over 3 minutes on the clock. Things were about to get significantly better for the current All-Ireland champions when two quick-fire goals quietened the majority of the crowd in Bord na Móna O’Connor Park.
First up was that man Eoin Cody. He collected the ball and rifled to the back of the net from the right of the St Rynagh’s goal. From the puck-out, Shamrocks gained possession and got the ball to Joe Cuddihy, who wasted no time in getting his shot away. The ever-alert captain, Colin Fennelly used all his nous to divert Cuddihy’s shot past Clancy in the home side’s goal. Ballyhale were rampant. There appeared to be a concerted effort to raise green flags from the Kilkenny champions as their early probing’s focused on the St Rynagh’s goal.
Captain Fennelly was then fouled, which provided TJ with an easy opportunity to split the posts from the placed ball. The next point would come from Brian Cody, who burst forward and slotted over a lovely score. The super-sharp Eoin Cody then found himself in acres of space before firing over for his side’s 4th point of the game.
The Offaly side were shell-shocked. They weren’t getting anywhere near their men; they were second to every ball and Shamrocks tempo was causing them all sorts of problems. They did manage to get their second point via a Luke O’Connor free, but from the puck-out, Ballyhale advanced and wing-back Evan Shefflin struck a lovely point from out the pitch. St Rynagh’s No.14, Aidan Treacy then pointed to stem the tide a little. Yet again, James O’Connor’s men replied with a nice long-range point from midfielder Ronan Corcoran to leave the score 0-3 to 2-6 in favour of the Noresiders at the first water break.
The Offaly side emerged from the hydration stoppage a completely different animal. They notched the first two scores of the second quarter, with points from Ronan Hughes and Paul Quirke. Last season’s county captain, Adrian Mullen struck his first point of the day in reply. Adrian Treacy then hit a ‘65 free to get his side’s 6th point of the day.
Things were about to get even better for St Rynagh’s. On twenty-three minutes, their most impressive player, Luke O’Connor received the ball from Stephen Quirke, and batted it past Dean Mason. The noise from the Faithful County’s team supporters intensified. Game on. Hogan’s side built on this major and they then engineered a lovely score from the provider of the goal, Stephen Quirke.
The next score needed to be a Shamrocks one, and it was to be. Adrian Mullen did well to collect a loose ball in tricky underfoot conditions before popping it between the posts on 26 minutes. This was only the second score registered in the 2nd quarter by the Kilkenny champions. St Rynagh’s were briming with confidence, they were hunting in packs and leaving no spaces for the opposition to operate in. The visible nerves of the first quarter had been extinguished. They were now just 4 points down.
Just when James O’Connor would have been hoping to get his side to the interval without any further damage, his Shamrocks team were dealt a huge blow. Attacking star Joe Cuddihy was given a straight red card for what the referee Chris Mooney deemed a high and dangerous challenge on Matthew Maloney. Luke O’Connor then fired over another point from the placed ball to leave just a goal between the sides on the short whistle, St Rynagh’s 1-8, Shamrocks Ballyhale 2-8.
When play resumed, the deadly Luke O’Connor popped over another point from a free to add to his growing tally. The response to the challenger’s rising audacity was a beautifully worked score from Shamrocks. Keeper Dean Mason picked out Ronan Corcoran in space who advanced before passing to Evan Shefflin who took a lovely point from distance.
St Rynagh’s then worked a good play from a sideline cut. Aidan Treacy found Ronan Hughes who struck a lovely score. Further good team play saw Paul Quirke find space before executing a fine score. Referee Mooney then gave Ballyhale a free following a disputed ‘throw ball’. TJ did the rest. Paul Quirke then took a lovely point, before Adrian Mullen replied with one of his own. Quirke then did it again, his third score in the 3rd quarter. The Offaly side brought the quarter to an end by adding another point from the stick of Luke O’Connor. The sides were level, 1-14 to 2-11. StRynagh’s had won the quarter, 0-6 to 0-3. The home Gaels in attendance roared. It was all to play for entering the final quarter.
Ken Hogan’s side took to the field with a huge spring in their step. Then on 48 minutes, substitute Aaron Kenny cut in from the end line before finding the on-running Ronan Hughes who calmly slotted the ball past Dean Mason. St Rynagh’s now led, 2-14 to 2-11. The champions needed a reaction and fast. Again, it was to be from a free and from the hurl of TJ Reid. Luke O’Connor then showed great pace and poise before splitting the posts. Shamrocks 14 men were struggling to cover the necessary ground, their opponents were mopping up the breaking ball in the middle third. Neat interplay from Adrian Mullen and Colin Fennelly led to TJ getting on the ball and dispatching a lovely score over the bar, to reduce the deficit to 2 points. Then after a little scrappy play in the Shamrocks half of the pitch resulted in a free to the Offaly champs, which Luke O’Connor duly scored from. 3 points between the sides as the game entered injury time.
The upset was on the cards. The scalp was almost taken. A place in the provincial final nearly secured.
The holders needed a goal. Richie Reid stepped up to hit a ‘65. He launched it in and around the danger zone, and as the ball went loose, Eoin Cody reacted sharply to fire to the net. All square in Tullamore, St Rynagh’s 2-16, Shamrocks Ballyhale 3-13. Extra time now required to decide the winner.
With Shamrocks now returned to their full quota of players, the late Eoin Cody goal appeared to shake his side into decisive action. They tore into a seemingly deflated and stunned Offaly side, hitting point after point and holding their opponents to just 2 points from placed balls during the additional time.
Adrian Mullen and 2-goal hero Eoin Cody fired over a brace of points each. There were also scores from Brian Cody, Eoin Kenneally, Ronan Corcoran and two from TJ Reid, one from play which was delightful. His brother Eoin, was also on target as the All-Ireland club champions eventually showed their ruthless streak. The final score of the day was fired over by Eoin Cody. It was one hell of a battle. Job done, eventually. A place in the provincial final secured. Final score, St Rynagh’s 2-18, James O’Connor’s Shamrocks Ballyhale side 3-24.
Ballyhale Shamrocks scorers: E Cody (2-3), TJ Reid (0-7, 5 frees), A Mullen (0-5), C Fennelly (1-0), B Cody (0-3), E Shefflin, R Corcoran (0-2 each), E Kenneally, E Reid (0-1 each).
St Rynagh’s scorers: L O’Connor (1-8, 6 frees), R Hughes (1-2), P Quirke (0-4), A Treacy (0-3, 2 frees), S Quirke (0-1).
Ballyhale Shamrocks: D Mason; K Mullen, J Holden, B Butler; E Shefflin, R Reid, D Corcoran; R Corcoran, E Kenneally; B Cody, TJ Reid, E Cody; A Mullen, C Fennelly, J Cuddihy.
Subs: P Mullen for Kenneally (50); D Mullen for Butler (53). E Reid for Cuddihy (red carded, e/t); Kenneally for Fennelly (62).
St Rynagh’s: C Clancy; C Hernon, P Camon, S Wynne; M Maloney, B Conneely, D Shortt; A Treacy, J O’Connor; P Quirke, S Og Lyons, G Conneely; L O’Connor, S Dolan, S Quirke.
Subs: R Hughes for Camon (4); A Kenny for G Conneely (41); C Flannery for S Quirke (63). S Quirke for Flannery (e/t); Flannery for S Quirke and N Wynne for Kenny (69); C Phelan for Shefflin (71); B Rigney for Lyons (76).
Referee: C Mooney (Dublin)
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
And breath…….9 points up at the first water break. Cruising. A blistering start to their Leinster semi-final. I don’t know what Tipp legend Ken Hogan said at the shortest of short breaks, but it certainly worked. The Offaly champions played much better in the 2nd quarter. I’ve heard of the magic sponge, but this miracle turnaround was of biblical proportions. St Rynagh’s outscored Shamrocks 1-5 to 0-2 in the period to half time.
Obviously, the sending off of Joe Cuddihy would further inspire the Offaly champions and prove a major stumbling block to the All-Ireland club champions quest for provincial glory.
The 14 men stood up to the challenge and came through this sternest test of their title winning credentials.
Eoin Cody – electric. Adrian Mullen, pure quality. TJ steadying the ship. Joey Holden plucking balls galore out of the Tullamore sky. The introduction of both Patrick & Darren Mullen had a real positive impact on the outcome of this game.
So, Croke Park on Sunday. Let’s be havin’ ye Clough Ballacolla.