Slaughtneil fall short of huge upset as Ballyhale close in on eighth All-Ireland

An hour after the game, and anybody from Ulster who has a passion for hurling is still swamping Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin, queuing for selfies, presenting hurls and jerseys for his signature.

Slaughtneil fall short of huge upset as Ballyhale close in on eighth All-Ireland

[team1]BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS[/team1][score1]2-24[/score1][team2]ROBERT EMMETS SLAUGHTNEIL[/team2][score2]2-19[/score2][/score]

An hour after the game, and anybody from Ulster who has a passion for hurling is still swamping Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin, queuing for selfies, presenting hurls and jerseys for his signature.

The Kilkenny and Leinster champions were priced up as 1/33 to win All-Ireland semi-final this but for the longest time the air around Newry crackled with the possibility of an incredible upset.

A goal in the 58th minute from Brendan Rogers when he caught his goalkeeper Oisín O'Doherty's puckout before making for goal, avoiding the challenges of Darren Mullen and the hooves of TJ Reid following him to find the far corner of the net sent the stand into raptures.

One point in it. And still from the next play, Shefflin's nephew Evan bailed him out with a tidy point despite suffocating pressure. Seán Cassidy was then blown for a grapple on Colin Fennelly that TJ Reid converted.

They had the breathing space, but when a Ballyhale puckout was flicked on by Mark Alyward into the path of Colin Fennelly he escaped the clutches of Cassidy and sweeper Gerard Bradley to plant to the net. It added a gloss to the scoreline that took away from the efforts of the Derry men.

"I knew it was going to be a serious game. I knew about the athleticism, knew about the attitude, but the biggest concern for me was going to be the hurling," noted Shefflin.

"I knew with them not having the football this year, the hurling was going to be top class and that's what we saw today. And I think we performed very well. I don't think we were as sharp obviously but Slaughtneil really tied up our forwards at stages.

"I still think that Slaughtneil were just brilliant, they got some amazing scores and pushed us right to the pin of our collar. We spoke earlier on about being patient and trusting each other. Those words really came right down to the end."

It's difficult to know if Slaughtneil would have a better chance of dethroning All-Ireland champions. So much fell into the lap of the hurling wing of the club and they had, for the first time since their hectic domination of both codes in Ulster began, a solid twelve weeks where they could focus exclusively on hurling.

And they may have caught Ballyhale cold in the opening ten minutes. A fine Chrissy McKaigue point opened the scoring after 30 seconds and Cormac O'Doherty then landed a free from the far 45 metre line, an early glimpse of a great day's striking for him.

A goal came when Brian Cassidy's sideline cut broke off Sé McGuigan and Jerome McGuigan's ground stroke eluded Dean Mason in goal.

By then, anything seemed possible. But winning any game against a side with TJ Reid presents an almost insurmountable challenge as he rifled over ten frees from a range of angles and distances, adding another special one from play as he held off marker Shane McGuigan.

"We lost today because we came up against probably the greatest free-taker who has ever played the game. A normal free-taker maybe misses two or three and it makes a difference in the game," said Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane.

"I have to say I thought some of the frees were of the soft variety, and maybe we weren’t getting those frees, but I don’t want that to sound like whinging and complaining. That’s the way it is, the referee refereed it the way he saw it.

"Slaughtneil proved today they belong at the top table with any team from any county in Ireland, they can mix it with them all."

It's an easy thing to say that Ballyhale played within themselves, but the workrate and the fine skills from Slaughtneil unsettled them throughout. While they soon on level terms, the economy from both teams and the scores were off the charts for club hurling.

If there was an edge, it was in sheer ruthlessness. Ballyhale and Fennelly's first goal originated with a Michael Fennelly clearance to Reid, who played it into Colin Fennelly to find the net.

From then on, there was never more than two points in it until a sense that the tide had begun to subtly turn. Fennelly was winning frees that had been denied to him in the first half and O'Doherty missed a free in the middle of a run of four consecutive points for the All-Ireland champions.

But Slaughtneil replied with three of their own strung together. They needed a goal and while they got it, perhaps it was a few minutes late.

Shefflin insists he seen it all coming, but he couldn't help counting his blessings afterwards.

"Some of their scores, you wouldn't get that unless you had practised it in drills and obviously Gerard Bradley sweeping back made it uncomfortable for ourselves. We weren't used to that kind of style. It was that kind of day where they were tying us up inside. We needed someone like Colin standing up to the plate like that."

On they go, in hunt of All-Ireland title number eight.

Scorers for Ballyhale: TJ Reid 0-11, 0-10f, C Fennelly 2-1, E Shefflin and B Cody 0-3 each, E Cody 0-2, P Mullen, E Reid 0-1 each

Scorers for Slaughtneil: C O'Doherty 0-9, all frees, B Rogers 1-2, J McGuigan 1-0, B Cassidy 0-3, C McKaigue 0-2, S ÓCasaide, M McGrath, Sé McGuigan 0-1 each

BALLYHALE: D Mason; D Corcoran, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, R Reid; R Corcoran, C Walsh; A Mullen, B Cody, TJ Reid; E Reid, C Fennelly, E Cody

Subs: P Mullen for C Walsh (HT), M Aylward for B Cody (58m), J Cuddihy for E Cody (62m)

SLAUGHTNEIL: O O'Doherty; K McKaigue, S Cassidy, S Ó Caiside; C McKenna, Shane McGuigan, M McGrath; G Bradley, C McKaigue; M McGuigan, C O'Doherty, B Rogers; B Cassidy, Sé McGuigan, J McGuigan

Subs: C McAllister for ÓCasaide (49m)

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.