Shefflin: 'We could have been in relegation... Here we are now, Leinster champions again'

Shefflin: 'We could have been in relegation... Here we are now, Leinster champions again'
Eoin Cody of Ballyhale Shamrocks in action against Páidí O'Shea, centre, and Garry Bennett of St Mullins. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-21 - 0-15 St Mullins

A routine day for Ballyhale. Only the opposition was novel.

You could sense it before throw-in. The announcer did his best to inject some oomph into the occasion with a dramatic crescendo to the team news.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your Shamrocks of Ballyhale!”. The applause that followed was minimal. Derisory.

TJ Reid provided a bookend to it all after lifting the cup. “The journey continues,” he announced.

It felt so ... humdrum for them. Another senior provincial title and it felt like an afterthought even as they went about claiming it. This is a side angling for a much bigger catch in 2020.

“I suppose they’ve been used to it, that’s ten Leinster titles now,” said Henry Shefflin who remains unbeaten in championship hurling as manager through almost two years in the job. “We’ve only done back-to-back (in Leinster) once before, 2008 and 2009, so it’s a brilliant recognition of the players, their hunger.

“Look at TJ (Reid) and Colin (Fennelly) and Joey (Holden) and Adrian (Mullen). They’re the ones that are driving it on and they’re hurling all year around. When you have players like that, the other lads, its easier for them to follow.”

None of that is to say that St Mullins didn’t do their bit.

The Carlow side showed resilience in coming through Carlow and again in punching through to this provincial decider. First order of business here was to establish a foothold and work from there. They managed that with a degree of comfort by carving out a 0-5 to 0-3 lead inside the first dozen minutes.

Michael Walsh and Paul Doyle had the clampers on Reid and Fennelly at the back and Marty Kavanagh was displaying the sort of dead-ball accuracy that turned many an eye last summer as he starred for Carlow in the Leinster Championship and league.

It was good but not good enough for long enough.

Reid and Fennelly may have been shackled for long spells but they were far too good not to strike with venom on occasion. The former stitched together some lovely moves and passes, most obviously in setting Fennelly up for a 32nd-minute goal.

The timing of it, just after the break, was bad and the wider context was even worse given James Doyle had just struck the butt of the Shamrocks post second earlier. A cruel blow for a Mullins side that were thwarted by goakeeper Dean Mason on two other occasions.

“That was a big turning point,” said Shefflin. “We went straight down and got our goal off the back of that, TJ soloed through and Colin finished it to the net. I suppose Mullins were looking for that big score to lift them ever more. But I thought even before half-time we were starting to turn the screw a little bit.”

Mullins’ limitations were most obvious going forward. Kavanagh aside, only two others would raise a flag. Ballyhale had nine players contributing to the scoreboard and they kept their neighbours at a comfortable arm’s length for pretty much the entire second half.

Their reward now is an All-Ireland semi-final against Ulster champions Slaughtneil on the painfully early date of January 4. It leaves little time for festive indulgences but everything about Ballyhale on Sunday spoke of a side hungry for nothing other than a shot at retaining the title they claimed on St Patrick’s Day.

Ballyhale Shamrocks player Richie Reid, who his currently in Lebanon on peacekeeping duty with the Irish Army, is shown on Facetime on the phone held by teammate Conor Walsh during the celebrations at MW Hire O'Moore Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ballyhale Shamrocks player Richie Reid, who his currently in Lebanon on peacekeeping duty with the Irish Army, is shown on Facetime on the phone held by teammate Conor Walsh during the celebrations at MW Hire O'Moore Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Richie Reid will be back from his tour of duty in the Lebanon for that one, Paddy Mullen should be back from injury to add further options to the defence and Conor Walsh appeared off the bench after recovering from a broken thumb. They are in a good place.

Just how good is remarkable given they weren’t expected to be a contender for the county championship in 2018. Shefflin’s last game for the club prior to taking over last year had been a chastening championship semi-final defeat, so to find themselves at such an elevation so suddenly is quite the thing.

“Yeah, look, it’s a bit surreal but, as I was saying to (selector) Richie O’Neill driving up on the bus this morning, we passed through Ballyragget and we played Ballyragget this year in the first round of the championship,” said Shefflin.

“It was a relegation game as well so if we’d lost that we could have been in relegation. So it’s just how fickle it is. Here we are now, Leinster champions again, it’s amazing how it goes.”

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).

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