BY NIALL SHERRY
Ballyhale will face O’Loughlin Gaels in final showdown
Shamrocks 2-20 James Stephens 1-17
Semi-finals are about getting over the line, and credit to Ballyhale for showing why they are the team to beat.
In a game that at times was scrappy and not as free-flowing as the watching crowd had hoped, it would be that man TJ Reid whose tally saw his side continue their quest for four-in-a-row county titles.
For long periods of this game, the Village more than matched their victorious opponents, and indeed lead by one point early in the second half, but once James O’Connor’s team started moving through the gears, their big game experience was clear for all to see.
Shamrocks came out of the blocks quickly and registered two quick scores through the impressive Eoin Cody and the returning Adriann Mullen, who was making his first appearance in this year’s championship.
The city side were playing with a very strong wind to their backs in the first period, and drew level following two quick scores from Luke Scanlon and Conor Browne. The Village tactic of using the wind to play searching balls into the danger zone was evident. Referee Quilty pulled play back and awarded a free from which Eoin Guilfoyle made no mistake. The very impressive Niall Brassil played a lovely pass inside to the lively Cian Kenny, who finished in style to leave the Village 0-4 to 0-2 ahead after 9 minutes.
The conditions underfoot were affecting the players ability to play a smooth game, and many passes went astray, or simply the sliotar didn’t hop as usual on the surface. By the 10th minute the James Stephens side had registered their 3rd wide of the day, and this would have a large bearing on the result, come the long whistle.
Undeterred by some horrible misses, the Village almost raised a green flag when a surging Brassil run saw Guilfoyle take the pass and shoot, only to be denied by a tremendous block by Shamrocks full-back Joey Holden, which saw the ball deflect over the bar for a point.
Ballyhale were struggling greatly to get any momentum going, and lots of poor passes and bad decision making was allowing the Village to retrieve possession easily.
County forward Eoin Cody then went on a great run which was ended abruptly by the oppositions defence, and a free was rightly awarded, from which TJ made no mistake. From the next play, Colin Fennelly received an early yellow card from the referee, the veteran forward was failing to get a foothold in the game, and his frustration told.
Brassil duly dispatched the free to leave his side 0-6 to 0-3 ahead. The Village looked hungrier, quicker to every breaking or second ball and when Ballyhale did get possession of the ball, the city side hunted in packs to deny the space and force the turnover.
Cian Kenny, who was proving a handful for the Shamrocks defence, made a darting run, only to be halted and fouled by TJ Reid. From some 60 metres out Brassil nailed the free to register his team’s 7th score of the day.
You could sense that the Village believed that victory was possible. They attacked again, but were dispossessed by Joey Holden, who laid a nice pass off to Richie Reid who in turn found TJ to round off a lovely move. Once again, the city boys replied, Brassil again making no mistake from the placed ball to leave his side up by 4 points.
Just when it appeared that James Stephens were pulling away, Ballyhale struck. TJ stood over a free a long way out and drove it in towards the Village posts. Unfortunately for the keeper, he mishandled the shot and the ball broke nicely for Eoin Cody, who was ready to pounce and finished to the net. And just like that the Shamrocks were only 1 point down.
The game continued to be rather start-stop, again the conditions played their part in this. Rocked by the green flag, the city side replied with a fine point from Matthew Ruth. TJ then added another point from a free, following a foul on his county colleague Adrian Mullen. The hard-running Village then struck again, following a lovely passage of play involving Luke Hickey, Niall Mullins and score taker Ruth.
Brian Cody then set up a scoring opportunity for midfielder Ronan Corcoran, who slotted between the sticks. James O’Connor then made a positional switch which saw TJ move into the edge of the square and Colin Fennelly roaming further out the field. This had an immediate effect, as Fennelly, anonymous for large parts of the game was fouled after emerging from a posse of players. TJ popped the free over from some 75 metres to leave the sides level at the shirt whistle, 1-7 to 0-10.
Like the first half, Ballyhale started fast and took the lead following another placed ball score from – yes, you guessed it TJ Reid. Again, the Village responded. This time some nice inter-play between Conor Browne and Guilfoyle resulted in a free being given, which the latter split the posts with. They notched another point when Tadhg O’Dwyer took a slick pass from Cian Kenny and slotted over.
Luke Scanlon then made a terrific surging run into Shamrock’s territory, offloaded to O’Dwyer who was upended by Joey Holden. Guilfoyle again delivered from the placed ball. Richie Reid then began to show more of his ability. He found Eoin Cody who in turn, laid the ball off to TJ who hit a wonderful score from play. TJ then returned the compliment to Eoin Cody when he presented the classy attacker with a scoring chance following nice play from wing-back Evan Shefflin. Eoin Cody did the needful.
For the first time in the game, the Village looked uncomfortable. The pressure was mounting, the mistakes continued. Brassil lost possession which forced Henessey to foul the quiet Joe Cuddihy off the ball. Tj Struck from the free to leave his side 1-11 to 0-12 ahead. Cian Kenny then exchanged passes with Guilfoyle who was then fouled. Kenny stepped forward and converted the free from the side line.
The Ballyhale manager then sent Eoin Reid into the battle, and his experience would prove vital as the Shamrocks stepped it up. TJ fired another free over. At last, the crowd appeared to be getting involved. Cian Kenny then took the bull by the horns and went on a mazy run before passing to Connor Browne to take the score. Another foul by the Village presented a long-range opportunity to TJ – opportunity taken. Mikey Drennan then pointed for the challengers to leave them just one point behind.
The Cody brothers then kept it in the family by combining to allow Brian to strike a lovely score. From the next play, Adrian Mullen gathered possession before striking a luscious point, that was eventually awarded following a chat between referee Quilty and his umpires. Ballyhale now up by 3.
Luke Scanlon was then played in by Connor Browne and rifled over a great point. The champions responded again, Eoin Cody pointing from 40-odd metres. Shamrocks could sense victory. Brian Cody then provided a nice assist for TJ to push the lead to four. James Stephens most impressive forward, Cian Kenny then struck a score to leave just a green flag between them.
More great support play from Brian Cody allowed TJ to strike another scrumptious score. Ballyhale then had keeper, Dean Mason to thank when the young netminder prevented a certain goal. Spurred on by this, Shamrocks strode forward and went for the kill, impressive second-half sub; Eoin ‘Rio’ Reid was through on goal before being fouled by Luke Hickey. Penalty.
Tj Stepped up and rifled a fierce shot past the Village keeper. Killer blow. From the puck-out. Ballyhale gained possession and the move finished with Evan Shefflin hitting a lovely point. Keeper Mason would again deny the Village with another fine stop. TJ again turned provider, slipping the pass to Ronan Corcoran who ran through unchallenged before striking the point.
James Stephens did raise a green flag deep into stoppage time when Mason saved initially, only to see Eoin Guilfoyle finish to the net. Niall Brassil would also strike the woodwork before the long whistle, but their race was run. The champions are the champions for a reason. Where there’s a will… there’s Shamrocks of Ballyhale.
Ballyhale Shamrocks scorers: TJ Reid (1-11, 7 frees, 1 pen); E Cody (1-3); A Mullen & R Corcoran (0-2 each); B Cody & E Shefflin (0-1 each).
James Stephens scorers: E Guilfoyle (1-3, 2 frees); N Brassil (0-3, 3 frees); Matt Ruth, C Browne, L Scanlon & C Kenny (2 frees) (0-2 each); T O’Dwyer, C Kenny & M Drennan (0-1 each).
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: D Mason; D Corcoran, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, R Reid, B Butler; B Cody, R Corcoran; L Barron, TJ Reid, E Cody; A Mullen, C Fennelly, J Cuddihy.
Subs: E Reid for Barron (39); C Phelan for B Cody (64).
JAMES STEPHENS: S Manogue; L Hickey, D Cody, S Donohue; N Delaney, N Brassil, D Hennessy; L Scanlon, N Mullins; M Ruth, C Browne, W Spencer; E Guilfoyle, T O’Dwyer, C Kenny.
Subs: M Drennan for Spencer (h/t); E Larkin for Hennessy (48); L Murphy for Hickey (60).
Ref: G Quilty