Already trailing heavily with just 10 minutes on the clock at UPMC Nowlan Park, St Martin’s midfielder Aaron Maddock found himself hurley-less, surrounded and under pressure out on the left wing.
With few options, Maddock resorted to a crude kick of the ball out of play, an open invitation to cut a sideline ball over the bar that TJ Reid gratefully, and mercilessly, accepted.
It was that kind of afternoon for the Wexford champions when everything they did went wrong while, conversely, everything Reid touched turned to gold.
Perhaps it was because he turned 32 on Saturday that Reid wanted to make a point, about his enduring powers, and he duly did so with a terrific 2-14 personal haul. It could quite easily have been considerably more with a penalty wasted and three other wides registered.
Colin Fennelly was in great form too, winning two penalties — only one of which Reid converted — setting up a goal for Eoin Reid and then scoring one himself. All in all a comfortable afternoon for the AIB All-Ireland titleholders who’ll return to the provincial final on the last weekend of the month just as everyone expected.
Whisper it quietly but have the star-studded Shamrocks already won the ‘real’ final?
“I think that’s a very silly question, being honest about it,” responded Ballyhale manager Henry Shefflin. “It’s November. I know we got the few goals but every day is different. It’ll be a Leinster final and we’ll approach it in the right way. It’s tough on the lads too because we have some of them playing U-21 again next weekend. Some of our U-19s played hurling last weekend so they’ve been at it seven or eight weeks in a row but we’re there and we’re delighted to be there and we’ll look forward to giving it our best.”
You don’t doubt Ballyhale will do that. Since their breakthrough Kilkenny title in 2006 — their first since 1991— they’ve played 17 games in the province and won 15. Winning Leinster titles is simply what the nine-time champions do though they’ll be without Richie Reid, who flies out to Lebanon on Defences Forces duty today, and perhaps Young Hurler of the Year Adrian Mullen who limped off early in the second-half.
“He got a bad dead leg,” said Shefflin of Mullen. “That’s something that we’ll monitor. At the moment, it’ll be touch and go.
“We’ve lost Brian Butler, corner-back, with a broken hand. Paddy Mullen from midfield has a broken hand and obviously Richie now will be heading off and Adrian is obviously a doubt. So it’ll test the panel but look, that’s what this competition is all about, you’re never going to get a clean run of it. But Richie will be a serious loss because he’s had an unbelievable championship.”
Yet with TJ in their ranks, anything seems possible.
“He missed a penalty and there was a ball that Colin gave him near the end where he could have got more out of it but look, 2-14 any day, especially in November, is a special, special score and it’s a great birthday present for him,” said Shefflin.
When Fennelly scored his goal, Ballyhale’s fourth, in the 44th minute, all of their forwards had got on the score-sheet. Richie Reid lined out at midfield and blasted over two early scores from there too, helping to break the St Martin’s resolve before half-time had even arrived.
It was the Ballyhale defence that laid the platform for the 15-point win over the outclassed Wexford representatives. St Martin’s had ex-county football star Ciaran Lyng and Young Hurler of the Year nominee Rory O’Connor in attack but both finished up frustrated, a solitary point between them.
St Martin’s scored just three points from play in the first-half - all long-range efforts - and it wasn’t until the final quarter when Ballyhale were rolling in their subs that Tomas Codd’s south-easterners eventually raised a gallop.
They scored 1-7 of their tally in that period but the game was already up, Ballyhale leading by 19 with 48 minutes on the clock. The seven-time All-Ireland winners were relentless in the first-half, scrapping for every ball and winning a succession of frees that their birthday boy happily converted.
Brian Cody’s goal after just 18 seconds, after a surging move up the centre of the pitch, set them on their way and Fennelly won 26th and 28th minute penalties, the first of which Reid converted.
Leading by 2-12 to 0-7 at the break, Ballyhale were back out several minutes before the St Martin’s players for the second-half. They clearly meant business and wrapped up the big win with 43rd and 44th minute goals, Fennelly playing in Eoin Reid for the former and converting himself with an improvised, batted finish for the latter.
TJ Reid got the goal from open play that his performance deserved in the 48th minute when he took on a ball down the right channel, rounded the ‘keeper and slotted in from a tight angle. “Like any of the lads there, he just loves playing hurling, loves hurling,” said Shefflin of Reid. “When you give him the ball, he can make things happen.”
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid (2-14, 1 pen, 11 frees, 1 sideline); C Fennelly, E Reid and B Cody (1-0 each); E Cody and R Reid (0-2 each); A Mullen (0-1).
Scorers for St Martin’s: J Coleman (0-9, 9 frees); M Codd (1-0); J O’Connor and H O’Connor (0-2 each); J Firman, D Codd and R O’Connor (0-1 each).
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: D Mason; D Corcoran, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, C Phelan; R Corcoran, R Reid; A Mullen, TJ Reid, B Cody; E Reid, E Cody, C Fennelly.
Subs: J Cuddihy for A Mullen (37); C Walsh for R Corcoran (46); G Butler for R Reid (50); E Kenneally for E Reid (51); M Aylward for E Cody (53).
ST MARTIN’S: L White; Joe O’Connor, C Firman, E O’Leary; D Waters, A Maddock, P O’Connor; H O’Connor, M Codd; J Firman, Jack O’Connor, J Coleman; C Lyng, R O’Connor, M Coleman.
Subs: D Codd for M Coleman (36); M Moloney for J Firman (46); J Devereux for P O’Connor (58).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).