BY NIALL SHERRY
Naas challenge helps Ballyhale bloom
AIB Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Shamrocks Ballyhale 3-22
Shamrocks Ballyhale weathered the Naas storm and came through a tricky semi-final encounter to secure a provincial final berth where they will face-off against Dublin champions Kilmacud Crokes on Sunday.
During the opening 20 minutes of this clash, Naas more than matched the Kilkenny champions, with a blend of pace and physicality appearing to catch Pat Hoban’s men off-guard.
The strong penetrating runs of Jack Sheridan and Cathal Dowling were causing the Ballyhale defence numerous problems, and had it not been for some crucial saves by goalkeeper Dean Mason and some wayward shooting by the Naas players, Tom Mullaly’s men could have been in a really commanding lead by the interval.
Naas hit 3 wides in the opening four minutes of action, before placed ball specialist Jack Sheridan opening the games scoring in the 5th minute, after Ronan Corcoran has harshly adjudged to have over-carried.
Sheridan then doubled his sides lead moments later with a fine strike from play before defender Harry Carroll struck over a cracking point from way out the Croker pitch.
Ballyhale somewhat belatedly opened their account in the 9th minute after a surging run through the middle from the returning Paddy Mullen resulted in his sides first point of the day. Naas replied with interest. Dean Mason was then called into action again, when saving smartly to deny the Kildare side, but the rebound fell kindly to livewire Cathal Dowling who struck to the back of the Shamrocks net. The Naas supporters cheered with delight and dared to dream.
The next score was also a Naas one, with Jack Sheridan pointing after he intercepted a Dean Mason pass. Ten minutes played, Mullaly’s men were up by 6-points.
Adrian Mullen then found Eoin Cody who popped over a much-needed score from a central position for the Kilkenny sides second point of the game. Sheridan then added another free after Darren Mullen was blown up for a foul off the ball. The roving Adrian Mullen then took possession before passing to Darragh Corcoran who struck a lovely point from the left side.
Paddy Mullen then found himself in acres of space and he rifled over a good score from the ‘65 to reduce the deficit to four points. From the next puck-out, Adrian got the sliotar in his hand and pointed from about 45 metres out, underneath the Hogan, majestic.
Dual star James Burke then hit a mighty point from half way, again much to the delight of the travellign Kildare faithful. Shamrocks then dulled the Naas supporters’ cheers, when TJ Reid slotted home a penalty after Colin Fennelly was fouled. The Naas lead was down to the minimum. Ballyhale were soon level after captain Ronan Corcoran found Eoin Cody on the run, and the former young hurler of the year popped over a lovely point.
Shamrocks then snuffed out a Naas attack, the ball was moved to Richie Reid who struck a lovely pass to Adrian Mullen out under the Cusack Stand. Adrian matched his earlier effort and notched another cracking point. Twenty-four minutes played and Ballyhale lead for the first time in the semi-final.
Jack Sheridan then popped over another easy free from the edge of the ‘D’ before Eoin Kenneally passed to TJ who struck over a point, despite the pressure from the Naas defence. Wing-back Kevin Whelan then sent over another booming score from distance to level matters again.
TJ Reid and Jack Sheridan then exchanged frees, before another Kenneally assist saw Ronan Corcoran fire over a nice point. Cathal Dowling was then halted illegally which allowed Jack Sheridan to add to his tally, before Joe Cuddihy found the forward running Darragh Corcoran who notched his second point of the game.
As Dublin whistler Thomas Gleeson sounded the short whistle, the score board read, Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-11, Naas 1-10. Pat Hoban’s charges were definitely in a game.
Glenmore native and Naas manager Mullally, will no doubt have been disappointed that his side were behind, having played some hurling and competed in all areas of the pitch, and created the better scoring opportunities.
The second half began with 3 scores on the bounce from Shamrocks, the first a clinker from Ronan Corcoran. TJ then popped over a placed ball from about 60 metres out, before captain Corcoran struck again to put his side four points clear.
Jack Sheridan then got Naas on the scoreboard in the second half with another placed ball effort.
Ballyhale then showed why they are the team that most fear. Dean Mason passed to Darragh Corcoran, who in turn sent a searching into the danger zone. Joe Cuddihy claimed a lovely catch before giving the Naas keeper no chance with a fine finish to the net. A 6-point lead for the South Kilkenny side, that was about to become nine.
From the Naas puck-out, Eoin Cody applied pressure, won the ball and made for the ‘D’. Despite attempts to halt the speedy forward, Cody composed himself, before firing a bullet of a shot beyond the keeper and into the net. Forty minutes played, Shamrocks 3-14, Naas 1-12.
Jack Sheridan struck over a nice point, before Kevin Whelan notched his second of the day, again from distance. TJ then struck 2-in-a-row, before Naas went one better and struck the next 3 points of the game. Darragh Corcoran sent over his third fine effort of the game before Jack Sheridan showed his worth again from the placed ball, before TJ matched that with a free of his own.
Adrian Mullen the hit another two fine scores, the second a reward for much determination. Shamrocks completed the games scoring with 2 further points, one from sub Eoin Reid, the other a third of the day for midfielder Paddy Mullen. Final Score, Shamrocks Ballyhale 3-22, Naas 1-16. Another Leinster decider awaits.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 1-6 (1-0 pen, 4f), A Mullen 0-4, E Cody 1-2, J Cuddihy 1-0, R Corcoran, D Corcoran, P Mullen 0-3 each, E Reid 0-1.
Naas: J Sheridan 0-12 (9f), C Dowling 1-0, K Whelan 0-2, H Carroll, J Burke 0-1 each.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS – D Mason; D Mullen, J Holden, K Corcoran; E Shefflin, R Reid, D Corcoran; R Corcoran, P Mullen; J Cuddihy, TJ Reid, A Mullen; E Kenneally, C Fennelly, E Cody.
Subs: N Shortall for Cuddihy (50), B Butler for K Corcoran (62), E Reid for A Mullen (62).
NAAS – C Gallagher; J McKeon, R Kelly, P O’Donoghue; H Carroll, R Boran, K Whelan; C Boran, S Leacy; K Aherne, J Sheridan, J Burke; C Sheridan, B Byrne, C Dowling.
Subs: C Dowling for Aherne (49), F O’Sullivan for Kelly (56), D Mac Donncha for R Boran (59), R Monaghan for Burke (61), L Walsh for Sheridan (62),
REF – T Gleeson (Dublin)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
I’ll start by giving great credit to Naas. For the opening 20-odd minutes of this game, Tom Mullally’s men fairly put it up to the eight-times All-Ireland winners.
But for Dean Mason’s great goalkeeping, Naas could have been much further ahead. Also the Kildare side struck a fair few wide and dropped a couple more short, fine margins at the business end of the season.
Paddy Mullen put in a mighty shift around the middle third, and also notched 3 fine points. Along with his midfield partner Ronan Corcoran, this duo helped get Shamrocks going in the semi-final. Darragh Corcoran was again accurate with his attacking forays – much needed in the current game.
TJ, fresh from the delivery room and the birth of his first child, Harper Mary Reid, (congratulations to Mr & Mrs Reid!!) notched 1-6 while county buddies Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen 1-6 between them.
Indeed, it was Joe Cuddihy & Eoin Codys quick-fore double early in the 2nd half that sealed the fate of the Kildare champions.
Going back to one of the Brother’s Mullen, Adrian. What a performance from the former Kilkenny captain. His GPS stats must be off the charts! Work rate, tackling, passing, scoring and lots of grass covered. This fella is a real gem.
Leinster final here they come again….