The giants of club hurling stand a little taller this morning. Defiant as ever following this test of their resolve and devoted to their fallen clubmen.
In overcoming tragedy to scale to this peak, they and Borris-Ileigh had been kindred spirits but ultimately Ballyhale Shamrocks’ experience decided matters, that sagely figure of TJ Reid swotting away Borris-Ileigh at the death when they threatened to rip up a script the defending champions had carefully put together over the previous 40 minutes of action.
This was a battle but despite Jerry Kelly’s heroics and Brendan Maher’s half a dozen points in the second half, Borris-Ileigh couldn’t get close enough to do more than bruise Ballyhale. On a day when most if not everything had to go right for them to upset the odds once more, their profligacy cost them dearly. As bright as they started, the multitude of points that went abegging weighed heavier on their shoulders.
Ballyhale weren’t exactly motoring but the long-range shooting of men like Patrick Mullen and Evan Shefflin from play, and TJ Reid from frees, was not matched by Borris-Ileigh who in the end had just four scorers, two of whom provided 13 of their 15 points. And while he didn’t find the goal, Colin Fennelly at least forced James McCormack into making a couple of saves.
Ballyhale players dovetailed beautifully. TJ Reid weaved in and out of this game but when he was in it was oh so telling. The game threatened to pass by his county colleague Adrian Mullen and yet he was able to send over a couple of points midway through the second half as the initiative was up for grabs.
It was interesting to say the least that Johnny Kelly had pinpointed his Offaly managerial colleague Michael Fennelly on Borris-Ileigh puck-outs. There was early purchase for the Tipperary and Munster champions with that tactic but the more they opted for it, the more Ballyhale were able to prepare themselves and it was in the second 15-minute quarter that they went into a lead they didn’t relinquish. In four minutes, they scored four points to go from two down to two up.
“We went central in the first half and had good joy with it early on,” reviewed Kelly, “and to be honest, after 15 minutes we would have been happy enough but then they did get a handle on it and we recognised that at half-time, to change that up. It was quite difficult.
“We didn’t get enough short ball but then we went in at half-time and said, ‘Listen, we need to change what we’re at’ because Michael at centre-back, and the Ballyhale half-forwards and midfielders in particular, were coming back and doing well on the breaks.
“We changed it up a bit in the second half and yeah, got more joy from the first phase of puckouts but you could say that Ballyhale did come out with a lot of ball so there were pros and cons to it but we gave it everything.”
The hope for Borris-Ileigh was that Ballyhale’s bulwark Fennelly would be sucked in but as a spare man Darren Mullen behind him was able to win plenty of breaking ball. Mullen took a big dunt from Brendan Maher in the 14th minute, which saw Maher earn a yellow card, but it hardly put him off his game and Henry Shefflin credited his corner-back accordingly.
“Two weeks ago we faced a similar scenario and probably didn’t handle it very well in the first half. I think Colin (Fennelly) wasn’t too happy up in Slaughtneil because Ger Bradley was getting too much ball.
“I think we learned from that. Even in training last Thursday night and last Sunday, we trained for that. We had a bit of work done on that and I was glad we did. Look, Darren is a fabulous hurler. I think himself and Darragh in the other corner were absolutely magnificent today.
“I felt like we were coming in the first half, the second half of the first half, per se, but we just didn’t get that goal. I thought if we had of gotten that goal we might have kicked on.”
Leading 0-10 to 0-6 at half-time, Shamrocks pushed five points ahead five times in the first 16 minutes of the new half before Evan Shefflin landed a giant score to give them what appeared an untouchable lead. For all of James Devaney’s graft, Borris-Ileigh couldn’t threaten Dean Mason’s goal.
However, the next four points came from Borris-Ileigh. All of Brendan Maher’s six points came in the second half and his 54th minute free from a difficult angle provided a little hope for their following. Devaney was intercepted when trying to set up Jack Hogan for a goal but another Kelly point followed and then Maher obliged from play after a HawkEye check. Kelly struck once more when he beautifully dummied Darren Mullen to send over his seventh and the comeback was on.
That was until TJ Reid once more seized the reins, finishing off a swift move to widen the margin to three before winning and converting a free in the following minute. In additional time, Kevin Maher flashed a goal chance over the bar and there was enough left for Brendan Maher to try a low percentage free at the net but Shamrocks smothered it and Colm Lyons brought the game to an end and christen an eighth Tommy Moore Cup for the South Kilkenny men.
Giants standing on the shoulders of giants.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: T.J. Reid (0-8, 5 frees); P. Mullen (0-3); E. Reid. A. Mullen, E. Shefflin (0-2 each); C. Fennelly (0-1 each).
Scorers for Borris-Ileigh: J. Kelly (0-7, 1 sideline); B. Maher (0-6, 4 frees); T. Ryan, Kevin Maher (0-1 each).
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: D. Mason; D. Mullen, J. Holden, D. Corcoran; E. Shefflin, M. Fennelly (c), R. Reid; R. Corcoran, P. Mullen; B. Cody, T.J. Reid, A. Mullen; E. Reid, C. Fennelly, E. Cody.
Subs: J. Cuddy for R. Corcoran (47); M. Aylward for E. Reid (54); C. Walsh for P. Mullen (60+1).
BORRIS-ILEIGH: J. McCormack; S. Burke, P. Stapleton, L. Ryan; D. McCormack; S. McCormack (j-c), B. Maher, R. McCormack. T. Ryan, Kevin Maher; C. Kenny (j-c); J. Kelly, J. Devaney; Kieran Maher, N. Kenny.
Subs: J. Hogan for Kieran Maher (47); C. Cowan for T. Ryan (53); M. Stapleton for N. Kenny (54).
Referee: C. Lyons (Cork).