TJ Reid was the star man as Ballyhale Shamrocks snatched a Kilkenny senior hurling league victory from the jaws of defeat — but they couldn’t get themselves out of relegation trouble.
The All-Ireland club champions went into the last round of the league in bottom place in Group A, needing a win over Bennettsbridge and other results to go their way if they were to rise up the table.
Reid’s injury-time goal helped them beat the ’Bridge 2-16 to 1-17, but a draw between O’Loughlin Gaels and James Stephens and Clara’s win over Mullinavat means Henry Shefflin’s side will be in the first round/relegation semi-finals when the championship starts in a fortnight.
It was a result Bennettsbridge were left to rue. They impressed in the opening half, with Nicky Cleere and Liam Blanchfield leading the way while a Jason Cleere penalty goal helped them go in four ahead at the break (1-10 to 0-9). They stayed ahead after the restart but as their scores dried up, the Shamrocks fought back. Eoin Cody blasted a close-range goal, before three Reid points levelled the game with little over five minutes left.
An injury-time Cleere free saw Bennettsbridge edge their noses in front once more, but they were rocked when Reid raised the green flag with seconds left on the clock.
James Stephens salvaged a slice of city pride but couldn’t stop O’Loughlin Gaels from bagging a place in the league final.
Eoin Guilfoyle’s free, deep into injury-time, gave the Village a point after their 1-18 to 1-18 draw with the Gaels in Nowlan Park.
The Gaels were on form for most of the game. Robbie Buckley’s first-half goal helped them open a four-point gap by the break (1-10 to 0-9), an advantage they held until the closing stages, but a never-say-die finish saw the Village hit back. County midfielder Conor Browne sparked the comeback hopes when he grabbed an injury-time goal before Guilfoyle nailed the equaliser.
Despite the loss O’Loughlin’s will still have the league title in their sights, and with it another city derby on their minds, as Dicksboro beat the Rower-Inistioge to move into the final.
The ’Boro were on song throughout as they recorded a 1-24 to 0-12 win. The city side’s attack sparkled, with all six forwards on the scoresheet in an opening half where they opened up a 1-15 to 0-4 lead, the goal coming from Aidan Nolan.
David Kelly led the Rower charge — he hit 11 of their 12 points — but the gap was too great to bridge. Despite the loss the Rower will contest the Shield final against Clara.
The hard work of a first half proved to be Graigue-Ballycallan’s reward as they got the better of Erin’s Own (Castlecomer). A flurry of early points from Eamon Egan, Conor Murphy (2) and Sean Ryan (2) gave the Sky Blues the lead, one they extended when county man Billy Ryan hit the net in the 19th minute. Declan Dunne led the Castlecomer comeback with some good points, but Ballycallan led by four at the break (1-10 to 0-9).
The leaders held that advantage well into the second half, but a Stephen Daly goal had Erin’s Own breathing down Ballycallan necks as the game ticked into the fourth quarter (1-13 to 1-12). It was nip and tuck from there but Ballycallan held their nerve, staying in front with points from Sean and Billy Ryan to close out the 1-16 to 1-13 win.
A first half goal from Richie Hogan proved decisive as Danesfort booked their place in the first round of the championship with a 1-17 to 0-16 win over St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) while Clara’s powerful play helped them to beat Mullinavat and earn a place in the senior Shield final (1-18 to 1-15).
Kilkenny SHC first round: Danesfort v James Stephens, Graigue-Ballycallan v Mullinavat. First round/relegation semi-finals: Ballyhale Shamrocks v St Patrick’s, Bennettsbridge v Erin’s Own. League final: O’Loughlin Gaels v Dicksboro. Shield final: Rower-Inistioge v Clara.