BY NIALL SHERRY
January’s final vs Dunloy awaits Hoban’s men
AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Semi-Final
Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-16
It goes around, it comes around. Shamrocks Ballyhale defeated reigning All-Ireland club champions Ballygunner to set-up a final clash with Ulster champions and St Thomas’s conqueror’s, Dunloy in around a months’ time.
Despite the best efforts of Gunner’s goalkeeper, Stephen O’Keefe who made a string of outstanding saves, TJ Reid’s second penalty attempt of the afternoon proved the difference at the long whistle and ensured that Harry Ruddle’s late, late show in February’s final was not going to be repeated.
Shamrocks were 3-points to the good inside the opening 2 minutes, thanks to a pair of frees from TJ Reid and a fine long-range point from Joe Cuddihy. Ballygunner got the scoreboard moving in the 3rd minute, when Kevin Mahony found Dessie Hutchinson with a lovely pass, before the latter turned inside and fired over a nice point.
Na Seamroga were dealt an early blow when Darren Mullen went down and had to be replaced by Brian Butler, but that change didn’t happen before Conor Sheahan struck over a monster score from inside his own half. From the puck-out TJ took a fine catch and as he made for the opposition goal, he was halted illegally by Ronan Power. TJ popped over the placed ball, but the Munster champions responded with another booming score, this time from wing-back Power, to leave it a one-point game after 7 minutes.
The opening exchanges had been a little frantic, but Pat Hoban’s men showed their steely intent when Paddy Mullen put in a fine robust challenge on Peter Hogan, underneath the stand of the same name, referee Liam Gordon deemed it a foul, but it was a gentle reminder to the Waterford side that Shamrocks were physically up to the battle. From the next passage of play Ballygunner worked the ball out of their defence well and sent a lovely diagonal ball to the ever-moving Dessie Hutchinson, who for the second time beat Joey Holden to the ball before slotting over a fine point.
The Kilkenny champions first goal chance arrived on 10 minutes, when Eoin Cody battled well and managed to pick out Joey Cuddihy, who in turn picked out the clever run from Adrian Mullen. Mullen from a tight angle struck a bullet of a shot, which Stephen O’Keefe managed to stop, but Colin Fennelly was alert as ever and batted over the rebound, which after a little intervention from Hawk Eye was rightly awarded as a point as Shamrocks Ballyhale nudged ahead.
From the next puck-out, Joey Cuddihy took possession and moved forward before delivering a pass inside. Cuddihy immediately reached for his hamstring and dropped to the Croker turf. His day was done and the unlucky forward was replaced by young Niall Shortall. Pauric Mahony then sent over along-range free to bring the game to deadlock once again.
Ballygunner took the lead for the first time in the 15th minute when another lovely pass from the roving Kevin Mahony found rising star Patrick Fitzgerald who got the better of Killian Corcoran before dispatching a fine point between the posts. From Dean Mason’s restart, Pauric Mahony was sharper to the ball than Evan Shefflin and once he had sliotar in hand, he fired over another score for the Waterford side, to increase their lead to two points.
The Leinster champions responded with 3 scores on the bounce, including a fine point from Adrian Mullen who was expertly picked out by Richie Reid, before splitting the posts. Evan Shefflin then took a mighty catch before delivering a pin-point pass to Paddy Mullen who rifled over a cracking point from half-way. Then on 21 minutes, a long ball in towards Colin Fennelly caused panic in the Ballygunner defence. The No.14 managed to flick the sliotar in the direction of Eoin Cody who picked up possession before being fouled. TJ popped over the placed ball to edge his side ahead.
A long restart from Stephen O’Keefe found its way to young Patrick Fitzgerald who left Killian Corcoran on the ground before off-loading to Pauric Mahony who struck over a sweet point from close to the sideline. Ballygunner were then awarded a very soft free when Joey Holden was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Kevin Mahony. Replays showed that the last man to lift Liam McCarthy for the Cats had dispossessed Mahony with skill. Kevin’s brother Pauric slotted over the place ball to put the Gunner one up. That soon became two, when Fitzgerald out-foxed Brian Butler before sending over his second fine point of the game.
Some persistence from Eoin Cody resulted in a ‘65 which TJ Reid rifled over with ease. Kevin Mahony then got on the ball again, this time laying off a nice pass to Mikey Mahony who pointed from out wide to restore the Munster club’s 2-point lead.
Veteran Waterford keeper O’Keefe was then called into action again, when after some lovely build-up involving Darragh Corcoran and Niall Shortall saw the latter pass to Adrian Mullen who’s goal bound shot was somehow thwarted by SOK. A truly unbelievable save, his second of the day.
Returning captain, Ronan Corcoran then showed great strength and determination to get away from his man before splitting the posts from out underneath the Cusack Stand. Eoin Kenneally then got in on the scoring having won the sliotar well before jinking his way past a few defenders and popping the ball over the bar to level matters right on the short whistle, eleven points apiece.
When the second period got underway, you could sense the nervous tension and energy all over the Croke Park pitch. The Waterford side hit a couple of bad wides early on as the challenges going in were meaty as both sides attempted to assert their physical authority. Eoin Kenneally saw yellow for a challenge on Ronan Power, before Adrian Mullen was blown-up for a foul on the Ballygunner full-forward and Pauric Mahony popped over the free to nudge the Gunner ahead.
Eoin Cody then got his first point of the day from out wide to raise the Shamrocks voices in the stands. Joey Holden then won a couple of important battles against Dessie Hutchinson, a sign that the veteran full-back was coming out on top in that particular tussle. Pauric Mahony then struck another free wide of the Kilkenny men’s posts and then from Dean Mason’s accurate restart, Eoin Cody took a TJ-like catch before striking over a beautiful point for his second of the day to push Pat Hoban’s charges one ahead in the 42nd minute.
Philip Mahony then saw yellow for a foul on Colin Fennelly and TJ fired over the placed ball to push the Leinster sides lead to two. Dessie Hutchinson then beat Darragh Corcoran before splitting Dean Mason’s posts with a sweet score.
Goalkeeper O’Keefe then pulled-off another save right out of the top-drawer when he deflected Evan Shefflin’s effort away from the danger zone, after some nifty stick work from Eoin Cody. It appeared SOK was having another one of those days, nothing was going to get past him.
Then came the start of the Shamrocks luck changing. TJ picked up the sliotar and found Colin Fennelly with a nice hand-pass. The man-mountain headed for goal and has crudely stopped in his tracks when Philip Mahony dragged him to the ground. PENALTY SHAMROCKS BALLYHALE! Surely a second yellow for the Ballygunner No.6? Referee Gordon deemed the penalty enough punishment, Philip got away with one.
TJ stepped up and struck a fierce shot to O’Keefe’s right, but somehow the Waterford man managed to prevent the sliotar hitting the net! Drama of the highest order! The Ballygunner supporters roared with a combination of delight and relief. You sensed they felt it was to be their day again against their great rivals.
The Munster side went on the attack, but Richie Reid, Joey Holden and Darragh Corcoran combined to send the ball deep into Ballygunner territory. Ronan Corcoran set the wheels in motion, TJ and Colin Fennelly exchanged passes which enabled TJ to head for goal and just as he was about to strike, He was clipped by Shane O’Sullivan. PENALTY SHAMROCKS BALLYALE, yellow for O’Sullivan.
Never one to shy away from responsibility, TJ placed the sliotar carefully before going through his normal routine. Up he stepped and this time his bullet strike was a little lower and rattled the Ballygunner net! Shamrocks 1-14, Ballygunner 0-13, almost 49 minutes played. This was the biggest lead of the clash, and you sensed the importance of the green flag raising.
The All-Ireland champions needed a response. Dessie Hutchinson, who had spent most of the 2nd half out the field in an attempt to find space and avoid the clutches of Joey Holden played a one-two with substitute Billy O’Keefe and struck a rasping shot across the Shamrocks goal, but Dean Mason showed his class by flicking the sliotar away for a ‘65. Pauric Mahony struck the placed ball, But Mason plucked the sliotar from just above the bar. Small margins.
As the contest heated up again, Adrian Mullen who was operating in a deeper midfield role in the second period won the ball close to the sideline before being fouled and upending the linesman! Mullen’s reaction was an indication of the Shamrocks mindset. A vital possession won. They weren’t going to be caught today. TJ majestically stepped up and struck the free between the Ballygunner posts from near half-way. Pat Hoban’s men led by five.
The Munster-men got their first score in almost 10 minutes when Kevin Mahony side-stepped Paddy Mullen before sending over a quality point. Darragh O’Sullivan knew his team were in a spot of bother and reacted by replacing young starlet Fitzgerald with February’s hero Harry Ruddle. A penny for Pat Hoban’s thoughts at this moment.
A Ballygunner sideline cut was then worked short by Dessie Hutchinson, who took the return pass before rifling over. Just a goal between the rivals with about 4minutes of normal time remaining.
Eoin Cody then claimed another spectacular catch ahead of Shane O’Sullivan, before the Ballygunner defender fouled the livewire forward. Like Adrian Mullen minutes earlier, Cody’s reaction was a sign of the importance of retaining the sliotar. TJ sent over the free. 3 minutes of injury time was the message across the PA system.
The last score of the game was to be from the soon to be former All-Ireland club champions. Pauric Mahony fired over after Darragh Corcoran was blown for a foul on Conor Sheahan.
With the allotted injury time played, Ballygunner had one last chance to send the sliotar in and around the house. Philip Mahony sent the ball in and Adrian Mullen broke it down and emerged with the sliotar. Referee Liam Gordon sounded the long whistle. Shamrocks had won by 3, they had taken down the champions, but more importantly, they had secured their place in the club decider in January. Full time score from Croker, Shamrocks Ballyhale 1-16, Ballygunner 0-16.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 1-8 (1-0 pen, 7fs, 165), Eoin Cody 0-2, Paddy Mullen, Ronan Corcoran, Adrian Mullen, Eoin Kenneally, Colin Fennelly, and Joey Cuddihy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 0-6 (4fs), Dessie Hutchinson 0-4, Patrick Fitzgerald 0-2, Kevin Mahony, Ronan Power, Mikey Mahony, and Conor Sheahan 0-1 each.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Killian Corcoran; Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran; Ronan Corcoran, Paddy Mullen; Adrian Mullen, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody; Eoin Kenneally, Colin Fennelly, Joey Cuddihy.
Subs: Brian Butler for D Mullen (6), Niall Shortall for Cuddihy (13), Conor Walsh for Kenneally (60+2).
Ballygunner: Stephen O’Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley; Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power; Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavey; Peter Hogan, Pauric Mahony, Mikey Mahony; Patrick Fitzgerald, Dessie Hutchinson, Kevin Mahony.
Subs: Billy O’Keeffe for M Mahony (49), Harry Ruddle for Fitzgerald (55).
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).
>> SHERRY SAYS…
What a way to finish their 50th year as a club. Not just any club, but the most decorated hurling club of all-time. By God, Pat Hoban’s panel thoroughly deserved their semi-final victory over near neighbours and rivals Ballygunner.
From the outset it was clear to see that this team had already decided that they weren’t going to suffer at the Munster champions hands two seasons running. Paddy Mullen’s challenge on Peter Hogan on the sideline, tremendous, a real statement of intent. Not today Mr. Ruddle & Co.
This win was built on the defensive solidity of Shamrocks team. Losing possibly your best man-marker in the opening 5 minutes was a huge blow. Exit stage Darren Mullen, enter Brian Butler. Players with different attributes, but worthy of the jersey. The fact that the spine of Joey Holden and Richie Reid was so strong, provided the Kilkenny men the necessary platform to play ‘their’ hurling.
Joey Holden in particular showed just how much of a miss to his club he will be when he hits Central & South America after January’s decider. Holden was immense.
Next to depart the stage was Joey Cuddihy, almost certainly a hamstring injury, let’s hope time’s a great healer. Entering the fray was young Niall Shortall, who showed glimpses of his undoubted talent.
Adrian Mullen’s switch in the second half to the engine room proved genius. Jesus, that lad has some engine on him, and is the perfect partner in crime for his brother Paddy.
TJ and Eoin Cody put on displays worthy of silverware, but as manager Hoban said afterwards, ‘no trophies were handed out today’.
January’s showpiece against Antrim’s Dunloy will be another puzzle for Shamrocks to solve. Dunloy have nothing to lose. That can be a dangerous component. Shamrocks Ballyhale will put the work in over Christmas & New Year and be ready for the challenge of the Ulstermen.
One more Croker trip for this extraordinary team. Merry Christmas Shamrocks!