BY NIALL SHERRY
Ballyhale’s historic bid denied by Deise champions
AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship final
Croke Park, Saturday February 12th 2022
Shamrocks Ballyhale’s quest for a ninth Tommy Moore Cup and a 3rd on the bounce were shot-down in dramatic fashion in injury time, as Waterford’s Ballygunner snatched victory from almost certain defeat at Croke Park last Saturday.
Substitute Harry Ruddle, smashed a shot from some 25 metres, that cruelly beat Dean Mason and nestled in the Shamrocks net deep into injury time. It was to be the final act of a pulsating final, as Wexford whistler, James Owens blew for full time as the Ballyhale players, mentors and supporters were shocked to their core at the Deise late, late show.
Ballyhale took the lead in the first minute thanks to a free from TJ Reid, out on the right side of Croker, after the semi-final hero himself was fouled. The Gunners responded within a minute through a fine point from Mikey Mahony under the Hogan Stand. Captain, Colin Fennelly then picked up the ball and headed straight for goal. The No.14 was fouled but Shamrocks played on with the advantage and when Joe Cuddihy took possession, his shot went wide. Referee Owens, brought the play back for the foul, and TJ popped it over to give his side the lead again after 3 minutes.
A well-worked sideline cut saw the sliotar arrive with Mikey Mahony and he duly split the posts to level things up. Again, the current Tommy Moore Cup holders responded. More industrious foraging from Fennelly saw Adrian Mullen take the ball, cut inside his marker and slot over for a nice score.
The first impact of the in-form Dessie Hutchinson was next up. The lively attacker evaded marker Darren Mullen and full-back Joey Holden before firing over a good point. The same player then took possession near the end line on the right-hand side before playing a lovely cross-field pass to Billy O’Keefe who took the point, much to the delight of the Waterford faithful in the stands. Then the Deise side moved the ball around patiently, before finding Kevin Mahony who rifled over the bar to put his side two points clear after 16 minutes.
Ballygunner were looking hungry, they appeared to be first to all breaking balls, and were hunting down their more illustrious opponents, and forcing turnovers all over the Croke Park pitch. The only thing that was hurting the challengers was the number of wides being registered.
The Kilkenny side pulled one back shortly afterwards, when midfielder Patrick Mullen struck over a fine long-range point. The next score was also to be a Shamrocks one. The ball was passed to wing-back Evan Shefflin, who struck over a monstrous score from his own ‘65. The next passage of play saw the unusually quiet Eoin Cody take the ball before racing clear of his marker and showing good skill before striking over a quality point. Darren Mullen then found his way into the referee’s notebook, following a high challenge on Dessie Hutchinson on 21 minutes. The Gunners free-taking specialist, Pauric Mahony scored from the placed ball to deadlock the sides again.
Then followed a really embarrassing moment. As several players tried to win possession of the ball, Ballygunner midfielder Paddy Leavey emerged with the sliotar before appearing to have been ‘taken out’ by a sniper on the roof of Croker. It was one of the most theatrical dives ever seen during any game of hurling. Not nice to see, and hopefully his team mates and mentors will have a quiet word in the player’s ear.
Eoin Cody then looked to threaten the Deise side’s goal again, but his effort was cleared behind for a ‘65, which TJ Reid slotted over to edge his side ahead. Evan Shefflin then took possession from the puck-out before slipping the ball to TJ who fired over a magnificent score from half-way, which was roundly cheered by the travelling Shamrocks supporters. IT Carlow student, Eoin Cody then laid-off a nice pass to the supporting Brian Cody, who slotted over a fine score to extend the Ballyhale lead to 3 points. Brian Butler then came to the Leinster Champions rescue, when he managed to block a fierce effort from Billy O’Keefe, which would certainly have troubled Dean Mason.
Darragh Corcoran and Kevin Mahony then had their names taken by the referee, following some ‘handbags’ as they got acquainted with each other. The very impressive Evan Shefflin then played a lovely ball towards Adrian Mullen who took a great catch, before being fouled just around the ’D’. TJ stepped forward and popped over the placed ball to move Ballyhale 4 ahead.
Gunners’ midfielder Conor Sheahan then fired a nice pass into Dessie Hutchinson, who made no mistake to take the last score of the opening period and leave his side three points behind at the break, 0-7 to 0-10.
Darragh O’Sullivan will no doubt have been unhappy at the number of opportunities that his side missed in the first half, but he will have been impressed by their battling and the hunger shown.
James O’Connor made a change to his team during the interval, with Eoin Reid coming in for Conor Walsh. This move saw Brian Cody drop into the engine room to support Paddy Mullen.
Shamrocks were quick off the mark in the second half as well. ‘Rio’ found his brother TJ who fired over a cracking point from out on the left. The Waterford side opened their account in the second period when an incisive run by Dessie Hutchinson saw the ball played to Mikey Mahony who popped the ball over. The Noresiders were then dealt a blow, when what appeared to be a hamstring injury saw Brian Butler leave the field to be replaced by Kevin Mullen after just 2 minutes of the second half.
Patrick Mullen then conceded a free which the Ballygunner No.15, Pauric Mahony duly drilled over. Dessie Hutchinson’s movement and pace was causing problems for the Ballyhale defence, and the former soccer star created a chance for Billy O’Keefe, who took full advantage and pointed.
More battling saw Colin Fennelly win possession before striking over a really good point from the left side to leave his charges 2 points ahead. Referee Owens who was letting the game flow nicely, then awarded the Gunners another softish free, which Pauric Mahony dispatched with ease. Pauric would repeat the feat moments later, after Patrick Mullen was carded for fouling the placed ball ace on 39 minutes.
Joe Cuddihy then took a superb high catch before being halted illegally. This gave TJ the chance to add to his tally, and he obliged. Cuddihy then hit one of the game’s best scores after a good advantage by ref Owens, to put Shamrocks two ahead. Then just 2 minutes later, Colin Fennelly emerged from a posse of players and bared down on the Gunners goal. The captain then batted the ball goal wards, only for net minder Stephen O’Keefe to produce a stunning save to deny him. The Sliotar rebounded to the on-running Eoin Reid who rifled it to the Ballygunner net. Shamrocks lead by 5, 0-12 to 1-14 with 43 minutes on the clock.
Evan Shefflin was then harshly adjudged to have over carried, when the decision could have quite easily gone the defender’s way. Pauric Mahony slotted the free over to reduce the champions lead to 4. The No.15 was then fouled, and fired over the resulting free.
TJ Reid who was getting through a mountain of work, then produced some good play, before passing to wing-back Darragh Corcoran, who struck over a mighty score from distance.
The Waterford supporters were then brought to their feet when Dessie Hutchinson took a long delivery nicely and sprinted away from Darren Mullen, before firing past Dean Mason to raise a green flag. The gap was now down to the minimum. Shamrocks regrouped and tagged on another point, thanks to Adrian Mullen who fired over from ‘45 out. Another fantastic catch, this time from TJ Reid saw the imperious attacker make space before slotting the ball between the posts.
Richie Reid, who along with TJ and Evan Shefflin were strong performers on the day, read the play well and made a great interception before bursting forward and pointing from distance to put the Shamrocks 4 up in the 55th minute. The Waterford side’s main threat from open play, Dessie Hutchinson was proving to be a real menace to the Noresiders. Once again, he got on the ball and fired over to keep his side in touch.
The gap was further reduced shortly after, when Kevin Mahony got the better in a tussle with Kevin Mullen, before pointing. Ballygunner were then given another free, this time on their own ‘65. The sublime Pauric Mahony, who had missed a couple earlier in the game, took on the responsibility and rifled the free right over the ‘black spot’ to leave just the minimum between the finalists.
One of Shamrocks outstanding performers on the day, Evan Shefflin, again proved accurate from distance when he splits the posts to push the holders two ahead in the 2nd minute of the three additional minutes signaled. The Ballyhale supporters were jubilant, and preparing to celebrate an historic victory, in this their club’s 50th anniversary. The score board read 1-17 to 1-19 in favour of Shamrocks Ballyhale.
Darragh O’Sullivan’s men weren’t quite done yet. As the ball bobbled about on their own ‘65, the impressive Ian Kenny picked the ball up and found Paddy Leavey, who played a pass to Peter Hogan. The wing-forward looked up and passed to substitute Harry Ruddle on the Ballyhale ‘65. The No.17 continued his drive forward, and despite the best efforts of Darragh Corcoran, Ruddle raced in the ‘D’ before unleashing a shot from some outside the ‘21 that appeared to weave past several players and beat the diving Dean Mason tight at his right-hand post. Dean sprung to his feet to restart play, but Wexford referee Owens blew for full-time. The score board now read Ballygunner 2-17, Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-19. Ballygunner, the new AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Champions.
Ballygunner Scorers: Pauric Mahony (0-7, 0-7f), Dessie Hutchinson (1-3), Harry Ruddle (1-0), Mikey Mahony (0-3), Billy O’Keeffe (0-2), Kevin Mahony (0-2).
Ballyhale Shamrocks Scorers: TJ Reid (0-8, 0-4f, 0-1 ‘65), Eoin Reid (1-0), Evan Shefflin (0-2), Adrian Mullen (0-2), Richie Reid (0-1), Darragh Corcoran (0-1), Patrick Mullen (0-1), Brian Cody (0-1), Colin Fennelly (0-1), Eoin Cody (0-1), Joseph Cuddihy (0-1).
Ballygunner- Stephen O’Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley; Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power; Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavey; Dessie Hutchinson, Mikey Mahony, Peter Hogan; Billy O’Keeffe, Kevin Mahony, Pauric Mahony.
Subs: Cormac Power for O’Keeffe 46 mins, Harry Ruddle for Sheahan 53 mins.
Shamrocks- Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Brian Butler; Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran; Conor Walsh, Patrick Mullen; Adrian Mullen, TJ Reid, Brian Cody; Joey Cuddihy, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Cody.
Subs: Eoin Reid for Walsh h-t, Kevin Mullen for Butler 33 mins.
Referee- James Owens (Wexford)
Ballyhale bainisteoir bemoans final seconds
Speaking to the assembled media after seeing his side come up just short against his old side, the Shamrocks bainisteoir was clearly shell-shocked and finding the result hard to believe.
“I told the players during the week that over the last two years I can definitely say that I have felt like a Shamrocks man,” O’Connor said with the emotion etched on his face. “They mean a lot to me, to be honest with you…
“The last two years have been very special for me. I’ve made some great friends up there and Kilkenny people, in general, have been great during the two years I’ve been there. It’s has been an unbelievable experience for me. It’s something I won’t forget for a long, long time. Hopefully, I will be a better manager and coach because of it.”
The Lismore club man felt his team had been the better side for the most part before substitute Harry Ruddle’s winning goal. “Look, we’ve been at the right side of these for the last two years but still when you’re in the 63rd minute and it’s the last play out there, you just think that it’s going to go your way again and when that ball cut inside and beat Dean, I was just heartbroken.”
When he got it and turned, he struck it, look, it could have gone an inch outside the post as inside. It gave Dean no chance inside in the goal. Look, I suppose we’ve been doing that during the year. I was delighted that the two best teams in the country were there today. I thought it was a fantastic game, even on the sideline. I’ll go home and watch it tonight, I’m sure I’ll be crying looking at it.
“That’s championship hurling. That’s All-Ireland final day. You get one crack at it, great when they go over. Devastating when they don’t. Look overall I’m very proud of the lads the way they played. They gave it everything. We said today we’d leave everything outside on the field and I think we did.”
As a Deise native, as well as a good friend of his opposite number Darragh O’Sullivan, he hopes the victory can propel the county. “I was inside with the Ballygunner fellas there and look I’ve been on the wrong side of results with them for a long time. They’re the benchmark of Waterford hurling. At the end of the day, I’m a Waterford man. I’m delighted for Darragh, he’s a good friend of mine going back over 20 years now. I’m sure they’ll be celebrating in Waterford tonight.
“When you get your club team up there winning club All-Irelands, it really drives on the county. I think this will be a big plus for Waterford.” Sure, look what it has been doing for Kilkenny over the last, 10, 15 years, 20 years. I think this will be a big plus for Waterford. Just to get out there to win an All-Ireland is something we’ve been struggling with for a long, long time. If you can do it at club level, there’s no reason why you can’t do it at inter-county level.”
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Where to start. Firstly, let me say that I am not a Kilkenny native. I’m from the North of Ireland.
When Harry Ruddle’s speculative shot left his hurl and found its way to the Ballyhale net, my heart sank. I felt a huge sense of loss, an overwhelming feeling of shock, and wasn’t even aware of the Ballygunner celebrations taking place on the Croke Park turf.
As bainisteoir James O’Connor said afterwards Ballygunner had “out-Balllyhaled, Ballyhale”.
Before I get to my thoughts on the game, the players, the protagonists, I need to get something off my chest, that might cause some controversy.
Kilkenny is a proud hurling county. While the big ball doesn’t feature much in the minds of the hurling mad Gaels on Norseside, I’m sure many would remember Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh’s last ditch cynical tackle on Monaghan’s Conor McManus in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final tie at Croke Park. This tackle effectively was the reason the ‘black card’ was introduced in Gaelic Football.
My ‘Ulster’ cynicism came out in buckets as that final roll of the dice from the Waterford and Munster champions developed. Should Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen have sandwiched Ian Kenny? Should Patrick Mullen have wrapped up Paddy Leavey? Should Darragh Corcoran have tripped or dragged down goal-scorer to be Harry Ruddle?
In hurling, the answer is undoubtedly no. The game is played in a certain spirit. This spirit, coupled with the heart-breaking finish that Ballyhale suffered last Saturday, and the wild exuberant scenes of celebrations that followed for the Ballygunner contingent, is why hurling is regarded by many as one of the greatest games in the world, if not the greatest.
Ok. Back to the match. This final lived up to its billing. The two best teams in club hurling on the Island of Ireland. Supporters making much noise on the seats of Croker. A game that swung many ways, and kept you glued till the end.
We’ll start with Ballygunner. The Darragh O’Sullivan managed side became the first Desie side to claim an All-Ireland club title. Comhghairdeas Ballygunner. Their domination within their county has now paid off as they claim the ultimate prize in club hurling.
Naturally, substitute Harry Ruddle will grab the headlines for his late, late, late heroics, 63.09 on the clock when the sliotar hit the net. For me, Ballygunner had two or three other outstanding performers in Croke Park. Dessie Hutchinson. This fella is a huge talent. His return from soccer across the water, instrumental in his club’s climb to reach the summit. Dessie scored 1-3 and was a complete pain in the proverbial to the Shamrocks’ defence, particularly to Darren Mullen who was yellow carded in the 21st minute as he attempted to halt one of Hutchinson’s many menacing runs towards Dean Mason’s goal.
Next up for the new All-Ireland champions, full-back, Barry Coughlan. The big man was immense at the back, especially in the 2nd half. Alongside Coughlan in the last line of defence, Ian Kenny. the No.2’s marking job on Eoin Cody was seriously impressive. Had you have told me before the game that the twice crowned Young Hurler of the Year would only register 0-1 in the final, I wouldn’t have believed you. Eoin tried to influence matters on numerous occasions, but Kenny was like a ‘second skin’ and Eoin was struggling to shed this nuisance.
Shamrocks Ballyhale. I like many I’d say, woke last Saturday morning thinking that two things would happen later that day – Ballyhale would claim their 9th Tommy Moore Cup and third on the trot, and that my club’s big rival in Down, Kilcoo would win their first Andy Merrigan Cup. By 7pm Saturday night, if you had told me only 1 of those things would happen, I would have gone with Ballyhale.
While Ballygunner’s short passing game and hunger was causing problems for Shamrocks in the first half, I felt James O’Connor’s side’s more economical scoring return would see them home and dry. TJ Reid was his usual self, unerringly accurate from the placed ball, while his points from play were exquisite. His brothers also had great performances. Rio, a great finish for his sides major, while Richie’s reading of the game was on-point. Evan Shefflin to me, was Shamrocks stand-out performer. Evan defended well and his ability to break up attacks and drive forward, or deliver quality balls into the attack are crucial to the way his side like to play.
Alas, the historic day that we thought lay ahead, wasn’t to be. A huge thanks to James O’Connor and this Shamrocks bunch for their phenomenal efforts over the last 12 months. No doubt, many of you will grace Croker again with the club, and hopefully in the black and amber before the summer’s done.
Comhghairdeas Ballygunner. Enjoy this amazing achievement.
Colm Bonnar’s men took the points (that’s all that was on offer!) in this exciting league encounter in Thurles. Liam McCarthy is never won in February.
Both teams have players to come back into their respective camps, and this will undoubtedly add to the squad depths, as we build towards the business end of the season, yes, that’s right, championship hurling.
Brian Cody will have been given plenty of food for thought, following his side’s up and down display in Thurles. Stand-out performers for the Cats were Padraig Walsh, who hit 4 lovely points. Huw Lawlor was given MOTM by many pundits, and had a great game. Cian Kenny showed promising signs, while the entire half-back line all got on the score board. Billy Ryan had a key role in many scores, including the major for Tadhg O’Dwyer, which breathed much life into the Kilkenny display.
Factor in the return of the Ballyhale contingent, and we’ll be grand.
Next up for Cody’s Cats will be the visit of ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s Laois. Points to be gained in this encounter.
1. Dean Mason – solid game, beaten by Ruddle’s late strike – 7
17. Brian Butler – was going well until forced off injured, great block to prevent goal – 7
3. Joey Holden – appeared to struggle especially in 1st half. Change of boots helped – 6
2. Darren Mullen – given toughest job of marking Dessie Hutchinson – 6
5. Evan Shefflin – outstanding throughout, energetic display, great scores as well – 9
6. Richie Reid – reading of the game excellent. Swept up lots of loose ball, lovely point – 8
7. Darragh Corcoran – battled throughout – got his customary point – 7
23. Conor Walsh – struggled to impact the game, big stage nerve possibly – 6
9. Patrick Mullen – gave his all, battled hard and took a lovely point – 7
10. Adrian Mullen – industrious all over the pitch, not afforded space & time, couple of good points – 7
11. TJ Reid – accurate as always, lovely points from play too, didn’t deserve the end result – 8
21. Joseph Cuddihy – Like Adrian and Eoin, was finding it hard to ply his normal trade, one nice point – 7
12. Brian Cody – dogged as ever, ref was keen to blow him up for fouls. Scored a lovely point – 7
14. Colin Fennelly – captain battled hard, took a nice point, nearly had a goal – 7
15. Eoin Cody – scored 0-1, tried hard to make things happen, but was well marshaled by Ian Kenny – 6
Kevin Mullen for Brian Butler (33) – had his hands full with the Mahony clan – 7
Eoin Reid for Conor Walsh (HT) – great follow up play to goal, set up TJ for nice point – 8
Ballyhale seek new bainisteoir
Ballyhale Shamrocks are expected to be on the look-out of a new manager after James O’Connor reportedly decided to step away after two seasons in charge. Sources close to the Waterford native, say he told the players in the changing rooms, after their last gasp All-Ireland final defeat to Ballygunner in Croke Park.
The Lismore club man took the reins from Henry Shefflin, after Ballyhale collected back-to-back All-Irelands in 2020.
O’Connor steered the illustrious Kilkenny club to successive county titles and a Leinster championship win over Clare’s Clough/Ballacolla, with hopes of a ninth All-Ireland dashed in dramatic circumstances by the Gunners last Saturday.
It was a second All-Ireland final heartbreak for O’Connor, who was bainisteoir of Fr O’Neill’s from Cork when they lost out by a point to Padraig Walsh’s Tullaroan in Croker, two years ago in the intermediate final following an enthralling contest.
Many names will no doubt find their way into the hat for this much sought-after position in club hurling.
Adh Mor to James O’Connor, in whatever lies ahead for the affable Lismore man.