Three points separated the sides at the finish, but that was hardly a fair indication of the power and precision Shamrocks displayed. They enjoyed a 15-point lead at one stage of the second half and looked almost as if they lost interest in proceedings as the game wound down, conceding 2-5 in the last seven minutes.
Shamrocks enjoyed the fresh breeze in the first-half and used it well, deploying a potent TJ Reid-Henry Shefflin-Colin Fennelly half-forward line cleverly.
Named at centre-forward, Shefflin moved out to the wing and offered his teammates an outlet whenever they had the ball. TJ Reid moved in from the wing to centre-forward, where he was marked by O’Loughlin’s Kilkenny captain, Brian Hogan, while Colin Fennelly put in a couple of shifts at corner-forward, posing a real goal threat.
With their defenders using the wind to drive the ball deep into O’Loughlin’s territory, the city club were under incessant pressure in that first-half. Shefflin (free), Reid and Shefflin again hammered over three points in the opening minutes, with O’Loughlin’s responding through Kelly and Nolan.
However, between the 11th and 16th minutes Shamrocks hit four points – three from Shefflin (two frees) and one TJ Reid effort from play, putting them on seven points to O’Loughlin’s three.
It was noticeable that O’Loughlin’s didn’t come to grips with the wind in the first-half at all, hitting six wides in total, four of which were scorable. They also struggled to get their primary ball-winner, former Kilkenny star Martin Comerford, into the game.
The Shamrocks machine impressed even more as the half wore on. James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick kept his forwards well supplied with quick, clever ball, and Shefflin pointed frees either side of a fine Michael Fennelly point from wide on the left. Mark Bergin pointed a free for O’Loughlin’s late in the half, leaving it double scores, 0-10 to 0-5, at the break.
The second-half was seconds old when Colin Fennelly struck – the wing-forward set off on a mazy run through the heart of the O’Loughlin’s defence, losing control of the ball and regaining it, before finishing coolly past ‘keeper Stephen Murphy.
Shamrocks really won the game in the middle of the second half, rattling in 1-6 between the 41st and 48th minutes. Eoin Reid, Shefflin (two frees), Colin Fennelly and Mark Aylward raised the white flags, while in the 42nd minute an O’Loughlin’s defender let a ball slip past him to Henry Shefflin: goal.
Substitute Danny Loughnane got a goal back for O’Loughlin’s almost immediately after Shefflin’s green flag, but it looked futile.
Crucially, Shamrocks dealt with the wind much better than their opponents when they faced it. This was crystallised in the 41st minute, when TJ Reid landed a point into the breeze from roughly the left-half-forward position – two O’Loughlin’s players had bad first-half wides from the same part of the field.
However, Shamrocks only got one more point in the game, a late effort from Mark Aylward, which is likely to concern coach James McGarry, while O’Loughlin’s were eventually rewarded with two goals in the closing stages.
Loughnane struck again on 55 minutes, and in almost the last play of the game Brian Hogan got the final touch in a crowded goalmouth for O’Loughlin’s third goal.
Shamrocks will be favourites for the final, and rightly so on yesterday’s performance. However, they will need to address the loss of focus that saw their opponents come within a single score of them in a game they dominated utterly.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: H. Shefflin 1-10; C. Fennelly 1-1; TJ Reid 0-3; M. Aylward 0-2; E. Reid, M. Fennelly 0-1.
Scorers for O’Loughlin Gaels: D. Loughnane 2-1, M. Bergin 0-7 (0-5 fs); B. Hogan 1-0; M. Nolan 0-2; B. Dowling, M. Kelly 0-1.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: R. Reid; P. Shefflin, A. Cummins, G. Fennelly; J. Holden, E. Walsh, B. Aylward; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly; C. Fennelly, H. Shefflin, TJ Reid; D. Hoyne, E. Reid, C. Walsh.
Subs: M. Aylward for C. Walsh, 40; A. Cuddihy for P. Shefflin, 50; P. Reid for D. Hoyne, 60.
O’LOUGHLIN GAELS S. Murphy; B. Kelly, B. Hogan, E. Kearns; A. O’Brien, A. Kearns, N. Bergin; P. Dowling, M. Nolan; A. Geoghegan, M. Comerford, N. McEvoy; M. Kelly, M. Bergin, C. Bergin.
Subs: D. Loughnane for N. McEvoy, HT; B. Dowling for P. Dowling, 41.
Referee: D. O’Sullivan (John Lockes).