Ballyhale are an incredible club, a rural parish with a big ability to regenerate quickly, says Anthony Daly.
At different stages throughout the summer on The Sunday Game, Henry Shefflin and I chatted about the club scene. He had taken over as Ballyhale manager.
I was managing Kilmacud Crokes. We loosely spoke a few times about arranging a challenge game. Deep down, I was hoping we might run into the Shamrocks in the Leinster club championship. Ballyboden ended that dream for us in Kilmacud.
The big days out are what we all aspire to. We all want to win. We crave that big performance in a final, but you couldn’t say yesterday was a dream performance from Henry’s side; because in Ballyhale, standout displays and another Leinster title is what they come to expect of themselves. It’s what they demand, because that’s the merciless standard by which they measure themselves down there.
This season was Henry’s maiden venture into management and his side’s performance had his fingerprints — and personality — all over it: Ballyhale played with patience, composure, and Shefflinesque cuteness, combined with savage workrate.
Despite all his brilliance, the one thing that separated Henry from everyone else was his willingness to work. He had every skill imaginable in his locker, but workrate was always the first one Shefflin took out every day he played.
TJ Reid is following in that vein now. TJ’s lack of workrate came against him with Brian Cody for years until TJ established himself as one of the modern greats. TJ had five wides in the first half yesterday, but his workrate reminded me of Henry in his pomp. His tackling was relentless. In the 20th minute, he chased Niall McMorrow along the stand sideline before hustling him into submission. In the 50th minute, TJ hounded and hooked Simon Lambert near the Ballyhale defence’s corner-flag, forcing a sideline ball for the Shamrocks.
It took Ballyhale a while to find their scoring range — they had 10 wides in the first half — but when their workrate remained so high and they continued to create so many scoring chances, it was only a matter of time before they got the job done.
Ballyboden were efficient early on. They were level by the 20th minute, when Ballyhale could have been out of sight. Stephen O’Connor had a great goal chance in the 25th minute, but the shot was well saved by Dean Mason. Ballyboden were right in the game, but with their grip on possession, it was no surprise that the Kilkenny side led by four points at the break.
’Boden dug in too in the opening minutes of the second half, but once Ballyhale got a run on them, they couldn’t keep up. They looked leggy, which was no surprise, in hindsight. ’Boden came through an awful battle against St Vincent’s in a Dublin semi-final, before having two mammoth contests against us with Kilmacud, with the drawn final going to extra-time. Their Leinster quarter-final against Clonkill, which was loaded with emotion after the tragic passing of little Annabel Loughlin, also went to extra-time. Their shootout classic against Coolderry was only decided after two periods of extra-time. The one guy showing well for them early on was Colm Basquel, though, he has little hurling played after being with Jim Gavin’s footballers until September. That freshness suited Basquel’s hurling, but his teammates looked spun out and mentally jaded from so many battles in recent weeks.
Ballyhale have been shooting the lights out all season but came into this match much fresher. Erin’s Own gave them a scare in the county semi-final, but they took care of everyone else in Kilkenny pretty easily before racking Wexford’s Naomh Eanna in the Leinster semi.
Ballyhale are an incredible club, a rural parish with a big ability to regenerate quickly; 16 of the 2015 All-Ireland- winning panel are no longer around. Their family lineage and tradition, along with the generation game, will always produce quality hurlers, but everything seems lined up for them again; Henry is guiding the ship, TJ is in the form of his life, Mick Fennelly has the centre of their defence locked down, Richie Reid was my man of the match, Colin Fennelly wasn’t brilliant yesterday, but he still looks driven. Also, the talented young lads want a piece of the action. Adrian Mullen, who hit 2-1, could be the next X-Factor player Cody is seeking with Kilkenny. He’d remind you of Eddie Brennan.
For a club only formed in 1972, it’s incredible that they have six All-Irelands and look a good bet already to win a seventh in March. Ballygunner will have something to say about that in February. It will be some battle. I’m looking forward to it.
Finally, I would like to extend my deep condolences to the family of Sheamus Howlin, who passed away over the weekend. There are a lot of GAA officials I wouldn’t be gone on — and they wouldn’t be gone on me, I might add — but Sheamus was one of the good ones. He was Leinster chairman while I was Dublin manager and we had some great chats during that time. Sheamus was a real gentleman who will be sadly missed.