Henry Shefflin the manager will have to do something truly extraordinary to match his gilded achievements as a player, but the Kilkenny legend could hardly have asked for a better start to life in the dugout.
Three points was the margin between his Ballyhale side and Bennettsbridge yesterday, but it was a bald statement of fact that ignored the gulf between the sides for long stretches of the opening half and the hat-trick of goal chances the winners cocked up after the break.
Not that any of that ultimately mattered.
TJ Reid, as he has done time and again in recent years for club and county, acted as spearhead, with 1-8 of his 1-10 haul coming in an opening half in which Ballhyale did untold damage with their long, direct and punishing style of hurling.
Bennettsbridge scrambled for footholds for most of the afternoon.
Victory in front of 9,145 people at Nowlan Park earned a 16th county title for Shamrocks, a first since 2014, and a maiden crown for King Henry as a gaffer just 10 months after he took the reins at his home club. Not a bad day’s business.
“Yeah, it’s a bit crazy. To be honest, I knew when they asked me to get involved that they would be there or thereabouts. We weren’t going to be anyone’s favourites after the last few years we’ve had, but the great thing is that new blood has come into the team.
“TJ and Michael [Fennelly] were phenomenal again, but they need that young blood beside them. That’s what the young lads have given them this year. Look, it’s been a steep learning curve and you learn more again today. Look, I’m delighted. It’s my own club and my own parish and that’s what I want to be involved with.”
The Bridge had long given notice of their intentions at this grade with the sprigs of promise shown at underage levels sprouting into junior and intermediate crowns in 2014 and 2015 and the accompanying harvests of two provincial and All-Ireland titles to boot.
If the occasion was new to them here, then the opposition wasn’t. Bennettsbridge had won a league meeting between the sides just seven weeks ago and Ballyhale had only just scrambled over the line in their semi-final against Erin’s Own last weekend.
Shefflin’s men still carried the burden of favouritism. Finalists only two years ago, they had a familiarity with the occasion that the Bridge — without a title since 1971 and a place in any decider since ’74 — couldn’t hope to muster.
As with all newbies, James McGrath’s men needed the stabilising reassurance of a strong opening, but they didn’t get it. Quite the opposite, in fact. With Reid front and centre, Ballyhale rattled off 1-5 without reply in the opening eight minutes.
Reid got the goal. Like so much of the damage they inflicted on the Bridge, it came from long balls pumped with a fascinating monotony into the forward line and a man like Reid is well accustomed to catching, creating and scoring of his own accord.
Bennetsbridge finally found their feet midway through the half, but their satisfaction at scoring four out of five points in that spell was curbed by the concession of a second goal. Eoin Cody was the tormentor this time, but the source — a missile launched from their own half — was the same.
McGrath made a tweak here and there. Enda Morrissey replaced Jason Cleere as Reid’s chaperone, but they were still leaking water at the interval, which they spent debating how to claw back a ten-point deficit on a dead calm day for hurling.
Goals were probably central to that conversation and they duly claimed two of them within the next dozen minutes, full-forward Brian Lannon profiting from a slip by corner-back Conor Murphy to claim the first and the same man doubling on a long delivery to notch the second.
Lannon’s second goal brought the gap down to just four points with 18 minutes of normal time still to go, but Eoin Cody had already spurned one goal chance at the far end and a handful of others would combine to mess up two more gilded opportunities thereafter.
All of which, finally, made for a contest.
Ballyhale were visibly tiring by this point. Shefflin admitted as much afterwards — and Reid’s flood of scores had been squeezed to just two after the interval — but they held out through the four minutes of injury-time, despite being outscored by five points to two in that last rush for the line.
Not the romp it had threatened to be, maybe, but that hardly mattered.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks:
TJ Reid (1-10, 0-8 frees); E Cody (1-1); B Cody (0-2); E Shefflin, D Mullen, R Corcoran, E Reid, C Fennelly, A Mullen and M Aylward (all 0-1).
Scorers for Bennettsbridge:
B Lannon (2-1); N Cleere (0-7 frees): E Morrissey, J Cleere and A Cleere (all 0-2); R Lennon, L Blanchfield and S Morrissey (all 0-1).
D Mason; C Walsh, J Holden, B Butler; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, R Reid; R Corcoran, D Mullen; E Cody, TJ Reid, B Cody; E Reid, C Fennelly, A Mullen.
M Aylward for E Reid (49); P Mullen for D Mullen (54); J Cuddihy for E Cody (60); G Butler for Shefflin (71); B Aylward for B Cody (63).
E Cleere; C Murphy, R Lennon, C Wafer; D Wafer, J Cleere, E Morrissey; K Blanchfield, D Blanchfield; A Cleere, L Blanchfield, N Cleere; D Walsh, B Lannon, S Morrissey.
D Coyne for Walsh (34).
P Cahill (Dunamaggin).