Experienced Ballyhale Shamrocks made it a 17th senior county title in Kilkenny yesterday, throttling a game James Stephens outfit and running out easy winners in the end.
In front of 9,533 spectators in a chilly but bright Nowlan Park, the south Kilkenny’s side forward power was too much even if one of the sharpest shooters in the game, TJ Reid, had an off-day.
James Stephens’ Cian Kenny helped the game spark to life, surging through the middle of the Shamrocks defence before parting to Tadhg O’Dwyer, who billowed the net from close range.
The score nudged Shamrocks awake: they hit three points in a row before Colin Fennelly, who was doing obair na gcapall in the first official tongue, won a ball, bullocked forward and offloaded to Brian Cody, who buried it: 1-3 to 1-1 on ten minutes.
James Stephens won plenty of ball but lacked the forward to work the scoreboard. They had to rely on Eoin Guilfoyle’s free-taking to keep them in touch, and they were only two adrift at the end of the first quarter.
Shamrocks then flexed their muscles. Fennelly was winning plenty of ball, having moved out to the half-forward line, and those around him benefited — Eoin Reid and Cody hit points and Fennelly himself hit the target.
Wing-forward Adrian Mullen was also beginning to find his range, chipping in with two points, andShamrocks were well on top.
Curiously, though TJ Reid was getting the better of his direct opponent Eoin Larkin, his radar was off, hitting four wides in that first half or his side might have been out of sight by half-time.
Late in the half James Stephens got a first point from play, from goalscorer O’Dwyer, but Eoin Reid and Ronan Corcoran responded from long range, and Shamrocks weren’t flattered by their 1-12 to 1-7 half-time lead.
Guilfoyle and Conor Browne took the fight to Shamrocks on the resumption, but then quality asserted itself.
Colin Fennelly made ground and found TJ Reid, who hit a crossfield pass to Eoin Cody near goal. His finish was neat, leaving the score 2-12 to 1-9.
In truth, though James Stephens never gave up, they needed a goal to have any chance and with the experienced Joey Holden and Michael Fennelly barring the way for Shamrocks that never looked likely.
The champions were able to keep the city side at bay, and they weren’t flattered by their eventual winning margin of nine points.
In fact, if TJ Reid’s radar had been working it could have been a good deal more emphatic.
“I thought our preparation was very good this week,” said Shamrocks boss Henry Shefflin afterwards.
“I thought we started better than we did last year. You could see in the parade before the match how strong, physically, our lads were, and our plan was to try to come right around this time of the year.
“We struggled a bit during the summer, lads were away and Michael (Fennelly) wasn’t around but it’s been brilliant the way they didn’t panic.
"They had it the last week against O’Loughlin’s, and they had it the week before, we were seven down against Clara at half-time. So they knew they had plenty of time to respond.”
Shefflin added that they had had to cope with an All-Ireland final hangover, with disappointed players returning to the club fold: “The county lads have had an awful long year. They were back in training the Wednesday after the All-Ireland, and we knew when they came back they’d be on a bit of a downer.
"When they came back Adrian (Mullen) was down a bit, Colin (Fennelly) was down a bit, but they stepped up big time.
“Colin last week struggled a bit, but he didn’t train last week, he just relaxed in Dublin, and then he came down and gave a great performance.
"It’s trying to manage that but I’ve experienced that before myself so I had an idea what would be in their heads.”
E. Cody (1-2); TJ Reid (0-6, 4 frees, 1 65); A. Mullen, C. Fennelly (0-3 each), B. Cody (1-0); E. Reid, R. Corcoran, E. Shefflin (0-2 each); J. Cuddihy (0-1).
E. Guilfoyle (0-8, frees); T. O’Dwyer (1-1); N. Brassil (1 free, 0-3); C. Kenny, C. Browne, S. Donohoe (0-1 each).
D. Mason, D. Corcoran, J. Holden, D. Mullen, E. Shefflin, M. Fennelly (c), R. Reid, R. Corcoran, P. Mullen, A. Mullen, TJ Reid, B. Cody, E. Reid, C. Fennelly, E. Cody.
J. Cuddihy for P Mullen (inj., 32); P. Aylward for B. Cody (53); C. Phelan for D. Corcoran (56); G. Butler for R. Corcoran (59); J. Connolly for Mason (60).
G. Costigan, L. Murphy, T. Keogh, J. Tyrrell, D. Hennessy, E. Larkin, N. Mullins, S. Donohoe, C. Browne (c), C. Kenny, N. Brassil, L. Scanlon, E. Guilfoyle, M. Ruth, T. O’Dwyer.
J. McGrath for Larkin (44); D. Walton for Hennessy (45); L. Hickey for Keogh (54); M. McCoy for Murphy (58); J. Byrne for Guilfoyle (59).
O. Kenny (Tullogher-Rosbercon).