Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-16 Dicksboro 0-12
Not a vintage Kilkenny final, by any shape or means, and hardly a typically stellar Ballyhale performance but their 14th county title will go down as a particularly poignant one for them.
Afterwards, an emotional captain David Hoyne dedicated the win to Martin Duggan and Seán Malone, who died in a tragic road accident in Mullinavat last December. Coming just two days before Christmas, the teenagers’ deaths had a sizeable effect on the club, Martin having captained the minor team in 2010 with Seán succeeding him last year.
Hurling-wise, yesterday was a case of getting over the winning line once again, after defeats to James Stephens and O’Loughlin Gaels in the latter stages of the competition the last couple of years.
They looked a step ahead of Dicksboro throughout, never going behind in the game, but they could have made life a lot easier for themselves had they taken the umpteen goal opportunities they created in the first half.
Henry Shefflin’s performance in that period personified Ballyhale’s frustrations. He finished the half with four points, all from frees, but could have bagged himself three goals. His first chance came in the 19th minute when, with Dicksboro having settled themselves and cut Ballyhale’s early lead from four to two, he inexplicably lost control of his hurley at point-blank range.
A buzz of bemusement swept across Nowlan Park but worse was to follow a minute later when Enda Malone hauled down an advancing Shefflin. The offended player stepped up to take the penalty but his shot was saved by Dicksboro full-forward Shane Maher.
Mark Aylward at least followed up with a shot, which cannoned off goalkeeper Aaron Duggan for a point.
Duggan had also been alert to a Colin Fennelly shot earlier in the game, with Danny Kenny quick to deny Eoin Reid from the deflection.
Shefflin, who had been moved from centre-forward to take on Kenny at the edge of the square, was upended illegitimately again in the 29th minute, this time by his marker.
Once more, the 11-time All Star struck low and hard to his left but Maher, yet again, was equal to his blast leaving the Kilkenny great wondering whether this was going to be his day.
Aylward, at least, was finding his range for Ballyhale and he picked off his third of the half a minute later as further compensation.
Martin Gaffney’s injury-time free narrowed Dicksboro’s deficit to two points going into the interval, 0-7 to 0-9, but they had shown little in attack from open play to suggest they were going to trouble Ballyhale.
Of the teams’ 16 scores in the opening 30 minutes, 10 had come from frees, just two of Dickboro’s seven coming from play. They had come within seconds of each other via the Walshs, Ollie and Oisín, and it was Ballyhale who began the second half the more promising.
Eoin Reid widened the advantage to three and was followed by a James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick score which narrowly crept over the bar.
Dicksboro substitute Eddie O’Donoghue’s 36th-minute point was quickly cancelled out by Shefflin’s fifth free and it was a crucial 11 minutes before the underdogs scored again.
In that meantime, Conor Walsh and Colin Fennelly had added a couple for Ballyhale to extend their lead to six and even with 19 minutes left, they looked comfortable.
Another Gaffney free followed by a Paul O’Flynn point gave cause for hope of a dramatic finish but they then hit three wides in succession.
Michael Fennelly, from distance, wasn’t so inaccurate with a long range effort before O’Donoghue threatened a humdinger finale with a low shot that agonisingly came off the upright.
Gaffney’s seventh free of the game brought Dicksboro within four with as many minutes left but the Ballyhale defence was proving a tough nut to crack.
A Maher shot in the penultimate minute of normal time was tame enough for Richard Reid to catch and while Gaffney proved a clinical marksman again, it appeared Dicksboro had run out of ideas.
With such a young side, Dicksboro will hope yesterday marked the first of many county final appearances over the next while.
For Ballyhale, it was about returning to the top. They didn’t do with much style but on a difficult surface and having come in as heavy favourites they won’t be complaining too much.
Scorers for Ballyhale: H Shefflin 0-5fs, M Aylward 0-4, E Reid 0-2, R Aylward (f), J Fitzpatrick, C Walsh, C Fennelly, M Fennelly 0-1 each.
Subs for Ballyhale: P Reid for Walsh (47), D Hoyne for E Reid (58).
Scorers for Dicksboro: M Gaffney 0-8fs, Ollie Walsh, Oisin Walsh, E O’Donoghue, P O’Flynn 0-1 each.
Subs for Dicksboro: E O’Donoghue for K Kenny (25), C Starr for Fagan (inj 39).
Referee: Gavin Quilty (Slieverue)