THEY had just won the All-Ireland senior hurling title, the stuff of childhood dreams, the pinnacle of club hurling; they had also just joined fabled Birr at the top of the roll of honour on four titles, but there was no shouting and roaring in the Ballyhale dressing-room.
There was satisfaction, however, a quiet inner satisfaction, and fittingly, given the day that was, it was best represented by Patrick, the oldest of the three magnificent Reid brothers.
"A club All-Ireland in the pocket, how would anyone be feeling?" he smiled; "There’s nothing like it. I thought the county final was good, but this is better. This is different. It’s a long way to a club All-Ireland final, we might never get back to this stage again."
If this were any other side you might be inclined to agree. Yet given the class and character they’ve shown all the way through this long campaign, given that the club has just completed a four-in-a-row at U21 in Kilkenny, and finally, given that the average age of the starting 15 on Saturday was just 23, the probability is that this Shamrocks team will be back again, and soon.
"That team will win another All-Ireland or two," reckoned manager Maurice Aylward; "I’m not saying when, but they definitely will win it again. The biggest danger is burnout, and in the next week or two now a number of them will go back onto the county team."
Don’t be surprised if, numbered among those called into his panel by Brian Cody, you see the names of Patrick, Eoin and TJ Reid. On a day when Loughrea managed to hold Henry Shefflin and Cha Fitzpatrick scoreless from play, up stepped the three brothers.
3-7 of the 3-12 total they scored, all from play, and every one of those scores sorely hurt Loughrea. One, however, was the mortal blow.
Loughrea had started well, led by 0-4 to 0-2 after 11 minutes courtesy of points from Kenneth Colleran (2), Johnny Loughlin and Johnny Maher with Patrick Reid and Mark Aylward on the board for Ballyhale. Then came the first signs that this title was headed south — five points on the bounce from the Shamrocks (Michael Fennelly, TJ and Patrick Reid, a brace from frees by Henry), an exchange of minors between Loughlin and Eoin Reid, then the first goal.
It began with a good clearance by Michael Fennelly, TJ read the break beautifully, broke in from the left wing, picked the ball in his stride, raced in on goal and finished with panache.
Loughrea did manage a couple of points in reply but another point from Eoin left it 1-9 to 0-7 at the break and Ballyhale in front.
Five points isn’t an insurmountable lead, especially not in hurling, and Loughrea still fancied their chances.
"We always felt that if we were in the game at half-time we’d have a really good chance at it," said manager Pat O’Connor; "We went out in the second half to really have a cut at it, but got sucker-punched by the goal. Two points followed and it took us a long time to recover."
Sucker-punch? Long time to recover? It was a mortal blow (though Patrick himself picked up a fine scar in its execution), and Loughrea never recovered. Nearly four minutes after the restart, Shefflin popped a low 65 in towards the Loughrea goals. Patrick was out first, caught the line drive, also caught a vicious smash across his arm in the process but held onto the ball. Referee Diarmuid Kirwan from Offaly (whose father, Jerry, refereed the All-Ireland club final of 1988) allowed good advantage and Patrick smashed a super shot that gave Nigel Murray no chance to extend their advantage to 2-9 to 0-7. Two Ballyhale points followed in the next five minutes (Henry with a free, after a foul on himself, TJ with an opportunist score after a lovely steal), and now there was a 10 point mountain for Loughrea to climb.
Given the way the Shamrocks defence was playing there was no chance of a comeback. One point in 26 minutes of the second half was all that sextet conceded, and that from a 65. Heroic they were, from James Connolly in goal, Paul Shefflin, Eamonn Walsh and Padraig Holden in the full-back line, Keith Nolan, Aidan Cummins and Bob Aylward outside them, midfielder and man-of-the-match Michael Fennelly putting in a trojan effort as an auxiliary defender.
Loughrea gave it everything, Johnny Loughlin, Johnny and Vinny Maher especially, but there was no getting through. Bodies were put in the line of fire, ball after ball taken off the line, hooks, blocks, tips, taps, all timed to perfection. When Loughrea did finally manage to break through, Vinny Maher blasting home a close-range ground shot in the 57th minute after an earlier triple-save on the line, it was only consolation.
There was time for a further two scores, an exchange of goals — TJ again for the Shamrocks, Johnny Maher with a rocket from a 30m free for the Galway champions, but — as Pat O’Connor had said, this one had been decided just after the break.
"I’m delighted," said Maurice Aylward; "I never won an All-Ireland with the Shamrocks myself as a player, so I’m delighted to win it as a trainer. It took a while to get the radar going but I knew once they did, we’d be okay."
Along with the quiet satisfaction he shared with his brothers, that was the feeling also of Eoin Reid. "Loughrea are a very tough team, but we knew if we got a run on them at all we’d put up scores, and we did that. It’s brilliant, best day ever for us all. We’ll enjoy the week now."
Only a week? Well, this is Kilkenny, this is Ballyhale Shamrocks, and this is what they do — win All-Ireland titles. This doesn’t satisfy an appetite, it merely whets it. They’ll be back for more.
"This is a young team, we can come back," claimed Greg Kennedy, who had a magnificent hour on Henry; "When you get this far it would be nicer to have been closer at the end. We were up for the game but the second goal was a heart-breaker for us. We were happy enough going in at half-time just five points behind, hoping then to get the first few scores of the second half. That didn’t happen, they got the goal; that’s life, carry on."
Scorers: Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 2-2; P. Reid 1-2; E. Reid 0-3; H. Shefflin 0-3 (all frees); M. Fennelly, M. Aylward, 0-1 each. Loughrea: J. Maher 1-3 (1-1 frees, 0-1 65); V. Maher 1-0; K. Colleran 0-2; J. O’Loughlin 0-2; B. Dooley 0-1.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: J. Connolly; P. Shefflin, E. Walsh, P. Holden; K. Nolan, A. Cummins, B. Aylward; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly; E. Fitzpatrick, H. Shefflin, TJ Reid; E. Reid, P. Reid, M. Aylward.
Subs: D. Hoyne (Fitzpatrick 59). Blood sub: M. Dermody (Holden 25/32).
LOUGHREA: N. Murray; T. Regan, D. McClearn (c), D. Melia; B. Mahony, G. Kennedy, J. Dooley; G. Keary, R. Regan; V. Maher, J. Maher, B. Dooley; E. Coen, J. O’Loughlin, K. Colleran.
Subs: M. Haverty (O’Loughlin inj. 39); J. O’Loughlin (B. Dooley 46); K. Daniels (Coen 52).
Referee: D. Kirwan (Cork).