Few counties have as little time for romance as Kilkenny and their county champions duly put paid to the fairytale run of St Mullins in this AIB Leinster senior club hurling decider in Portlaoise on Sunday afternoon.
This was an efficient and ultimately convincing win for Henry Shefflin's troops. It marks a tenth provincial title for them and, more importantly, takes them another step closer to retaining the All-Ireland title claimed earlier this year.
Next on the agenda are Slaughtneil in January.
They came 1st and 2nd in the school’s ‘Long Puck’ competition after insisting they should be eligible to compete!— Shamrocks (@BallyhaleGAA) December 1, 2019
First order of business for St Mullins here was to establish a beachhead. Do that and they could build a presence and hope to push on through to something magical. Fail and this would be a long day for everybody. They managed the first bit with some comfort.
Tenacious in defence, where they attacked in packs, the Carlow champions got the scoreboard ticking at the other end thanks in the main to the dead ball accuracy of Marty Kavanagh. They were 0-4 to 0-3 ahead with just over ten minutes played.
Ballyhale weren't letting them at it. The favourires were just as gritty in denying space and opportunities and they squeezed their neighbours more and more as the day wore on and Kavanagh became their only real outlet.
TJ Reid, not for the first time, found himself shadowed every step of the way. Michael Walsh picked him up from the off but he had back-up whenever a raid threatened through the former Hurler of the Year who still managed to knit together some wonderful passages of play for others.
He also scored nine points.
Reid, like Kavanagh, was a menace from frees but he had ample support with five others getting on the scoreboard by the interval, as opposed to just one in support of Kavanagh. The score at the turn of ends was 0-11 to 0-7 and it was hard to discern a pattern by which a shock would be the outcome.
All the more so just a handful of minutes after the restart when James Doyle's goal attempt scattered wide off the butt of the post and Colin Fennelly found the opposite net for Shamrocks straight from the puckout.
That could have knocked the stuffing out of Mullins completely but it didn't. Nine points down, they kept on keeping on, a trio of points bringing the deficit back to six with over 20 minutes still to go. It was as close as they would get though, while Ballyhale lost captain Michael Fennelly to a red card for a second booking late on.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid (0-9, 0-8 frees); C Fennelly (1-0); A Mullen and B Cody (both 0-3); E Cody (0-2); E Shefflin, C Phelan, E Reid and M Aylward (all 0-1).
Scorers for St Mullins: M Kavanagh ((0-12, 0-1 '65', 0-8 frees): J O'Neill (0-2), J Doyle (0-1).
Ballyhale Shamrocks: D Mason; B Butler, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, D Corcoran; R Corcoran, C Phelan; B Cody, TJ Reid, A Mullen; E Reid, C Fennelly, E Cody.
Subs: J Cuddihy for E Reid (44); C Walsh for Phelan (46); G Butler for D Corcoran (56); M Aylward for E Cody (57); E Kenneally for Cody (61).
St Mullins: K Kehoe; J Doran, P Doyle, G Bennett; C Kavanagh, M Walsh, G Coady; J Kavanagh, O Boland; J Doyle, M Kavanagh, S Murphy; J O'Neill, P Boland, P O'Shea.
Subs: P Walsh for J Kavanagh (50); P Connors for P Boland (55); J Murphy for C Kavanagh and O Ryan for Bennett (58); C Corcoran for O'Neill (60).
Referee: S Stack (Dublin).