Even in Kilkenny, however, the most fanatical of all hurling counties, due deference is paid to the biggest day on the gaelic football calendar, thus the early start to this double-header in Nowlan Park.
Did those couple of thousand who answered the call get their money’s worth? Not in this game, although in fairness, the quality of the hurling was top-class at times, from the Shamrocks particularly.
From the first quarter, the writing was on the wall. Despite playing into the strong breeze, Ballyhale led 2-5 to 0-1 after 17 minutes, courtesy of an extremely potent inside line of attack.
Veteran corner-forward Dermot Lawlor opened the scoring for the underdogs but with county star Henry Shefflin pulling the strings for Ballyhale from centre-forward, underage star James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick got their first score, a goal in the sixth minute. A minute later, it was 2-0 to 0-1, with corner-forward Eoin Reid in after a good set up by Fitzpatrick. It got worse for the men from the mountains in the following ten minutes with five unanswered Ballyhale points, three from Fitzpatrick, along with efforts from Shefflin and Reid. St. Martin’s did make a bit of a comeback, with the Lawlor brothers, Dermot and Aidan, combining for 1-3 (Aidan’s goal), to leave it 3-6 to 1-4 at the break.
With the aid of the wind to come, however, there was only going to be only one winner.
Fourteen points, a procession of scores, one every two minutes, was the return for the boys from the Knocktopher area in the second half. Cha was a lot more subdued in this period, and credit to full-back Ger Doyle for that, but Henry continued his scoring heroics, Eoin Reid likewise, while wing-forward David Hoyne and corner-forward Mark Aylward also came into the reckoning.
They did concede 2-4 (Shane Coonan and Dermot Lawlor with the goals), a worry, especially given the ease with which their defence was opened up on another couple of occasions.
Next up for Ballyhale Shamrocks, a semi-final battle with O’Loughlin Gaels, who obliterated Tullaroan on Saturday evening. A return to the glory days of the ‘80s (six county titles won by Ballyhale Shamrocks) isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility, given the potential in that forward line.
Midfield is also a strong point, U-21 star Michael Fennelly, of the famous clan, impressing alongside former senior panellist Aidan Cummins. The half-back line of Keith Nolan, Bob Aylward and Tom Coogan was well on top, but three goals conceded, two more threatened, there are flaws.
Given the potency of the O’Loughlin Gaels forwards, that must be a worry. Ballyhale did what they had to do in this one, but they won’t have it as easy on the weekend after next.
: Ballyhale Shamrocks: H. Shefflin 1-7 (1-6 frees 0-1 65); E. Reed 1-4; J. Fitzpatrick 1-3; D. Hoyne 0-2; M. Aylward 0-2; M. Fennelly, P. Reid, 0-1 each. St. Martin’s: D. Lawlor 1-6 (0-4 frees); A. Lawlor 1-1; S. Coonan 1-1.
: M.P. Drennan; P. Shefflin, E. Walsh, P. Holden; K. Nolan, B. Aylward, T. Coogan; M. Fennelly, A. Cummins; D. Hoyne, H. Shefflin, T.J. Reid; E. Reid, J. Fitzpatrick, M. Aylward.
: P. Reid (T.J. Reid 45); J. Connolly (Drennan 47); M. Dermody (Nolan 54); A. Walsh (M. Aylward 58); L. Grant (Coogan 58).
: S. Murphy; J. Maher, G. Doyle, S. Cadogan; N. Moran, B. Maher, A. Murphy; P. Maher, B. Mulhall; J. Maher, L. Dowling, S. Coonan; E. McGrath, A. Lawlor, D. Lawlor. Subs: M. Mulhall (B. Mulhall 45).
: J. Guinan (St. Lachtain’s).