The Ballyhale boys were without their main man and eight-times All-Ireland medal winner Henry Shefflin but they were still good enough to claim a 2-13 to 1-10 victory.
Stephens were without Matthew Ruth, Donnacha Cody and Tomas Kehoe but they rarely matched their opponents for pace, power or sharp hurling.
The winners’ play was epitomised by driving midfielder James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, who was back to his brilliant best and is set to be an integral figure as Shamrocks bid to reclaim the championship title they surrendered last season.
Shamrocks ran up a 1-7 to 0-2 interval lead after playing against the wind. Indeed, had county star Colin Fennelly enjoyed a bit more luck, or if Stephens keeper Derrick Brennan hadn’t been in inspired form, the winners could have been a couple of goals better off.
A 39th-minute goal from David Walton inspired a short-lived Stephens revival after the break when they cut the gap to three points on two occasions (1-8 to 1-5 and 1-11 to 1-8).
However, once Shamrocks found their range and TJ Reid regained his touch, they motored away to victory. A goal from Reid in the 50th minute stretched the difference to 2-11 to 1-8 and it was game, set and match to Shamrocks.
These two now move on to the championship quarter-finals, the draws for which will be made tonight. On the evidence of the league and the final Shamrocks will take all the beating again this year.
Meanwhile, last year’s beaten finalists, Carrickshock, needed a bit of luck to beat neighbours Dunnamaggin by 0-19 to 1-14 in a first round championship clash. The losers had a man sent off in the 37th minute which knocked them out of their stride.
The scores were level at 0-12 to 1-9 at the interval, the goal scored by Dunnamaggin’s Kieran Bergin.
However, eight points from Richie Power and three from Michael Rice were hugely important as Carrickshock advanced to the quarter-finals.
Fenians (Johnstown) pulled off the surprise result of the weekend when beating fancied Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) by 0-9 to 0-7, also in the first round.
The losers have been in the semis for the past few years and were expected to dismiss a team that looked candidates for relegation for most of the season. However, good results have catapulted Fenians into the quarter-finals.
The hero of the hour was attacker Kevin Reid, who shot seven points. Eoin Shiel weighed in with two more as Erin’s Own paid the penalty for shooting 10 first-half wides when wind assisted.
In the first round championship/relegation semi-final clash between neighbours and fierce rivals Graigue-Ballycallan and Tullaroan, a late point for John Purcell earned Graigue a 1-12 to 1-11 win and guaranteed their senior status for another season at least.
The result leaves Tommy Walsh’s Tullaroan fighting for their senior lives after what was a stirring performance.
They led by 1-6 to 1-2 at the break, although they were worth a few more scores.
However, Graigue landed five points in a row during the third quarter to grab the initiative. They still had to hang on for dear life as the contest went right down to the wire.
In the other first round championship/relegation semi-final clash, Dicksboro and Clara played out a 0-17 to 1-14 draw.
Clara needed a 63rd-minute point from Eoin O’Shea to earn a replay, which is scheduled for next weekend.
Wind-assisted Clara were gifted an early goal, which was scored by Conor Phelan, and they proceeded to lead the way. At the break they led by 1-8 to 0-8.
The ‘Boro drew level (1-8 to 0-11) after 37 minutes and the sides were level five times subsequently.
With normal time completed an Eddie O’Donoghue point separated the teams — but O’Shea saved Clara’s skin with the second last strike of the match.