They may have been played in near-empty grounds, but there was nothing quiet about the first weekend of senior hurling action in Kilkenny.
It was honours even in UPMC Nowlan Park on Friday as the clash of two All-Ireland champions ended all square. Ballyhale Shamrocks, under new manager James O’Connor, shared the spoils with intermediate champions Tullaroan on a 2-18 to 1-21 scoreline.
A Bill Gaffney goal saw a fired-up Tullaroan take an early lead, but Shamrocks got a rub of the green when TJ Reid’s long-range shot found its way to the net.
That was about all the good fortune Ballyhale had in the game. Already without the injured Adrian Mullen, they lost Darren Mullen in the first half and were forced to take off Colin Fennelly later. At half-time it was all square at 1-9 apiece.
Tullaroan raised their game in the second half, working hard to take a decisive lead. With Shane Walsh leading the way – he ended his evening with 0-10 – they took a three-point lead by the 40th minute but couldn’t hold off Ballyhale for long. It was tit-for-tat in the closing stages, but a late Tullaroan surge led by Shane Walsh saw them go 1-21 to 1-18 ahead as the game moved into injury time.
It looked as though they had done enough to earn the victory, but one last Shamrocks attack saw TJ Reid set up brother Eoin to sweep home the equalising goal.
The Park hosted two more games over the weekend. James Stephens started their campaign with victory over Danesfort by 0-19 to 1-14. The Village were in control for most of the game, cancelling out the scoring form of Richie Hogan (0-6) as they took a three-point lead into half-time (0-11 to 0-8). Niall Brassil hit 0-3 for the city side.
The city side stretched that lead to double figures quickly after the restart (0-16 to 0-8). They seemed to be cruising, but the combination of a red card for Jack McGrath and a Paddy Hogan goal allowed their rivals to close to within a point late on. The Village didn’t panic, former county hurler Matthew Ruth settling matters with a late point.
The last game of the weekend in UPMC Nowlan Park saw Mullinavat and Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) take home a point each after a 1-17 to 0-20 draw.
The Castlecomer men will rue the result as they had been in control for long spells of the game. With Michael Murphy in impressive form, they raced into a seven-point lead early on (0-8 to 0-1) and were 0-11 to 0-8 ahead at half-time. They held their advantage until midway through the second half, when the ’Vat came storming back. Ger Malone led the revival, pouncing for a 45th-minute goal that helped get the South Kilkenny back on track. Points from Jamie Holohan and Martin Boran helped Erin’s Own restored their advantage, but they couldn’t keep their rivals down. John Walsh’s late free ensured Mullinavat had something to take home for their efforts. O’Loughlin Gaels opened their account with a 1-18 to 1-14 win against Bennettsbridge.
A Mark Bergin penalty inspired the city side in the opening quarter, but the Bridge rallied and were just a point behind (1-7 to 0-9) at the break. Bennettsbridge pushed hard for goals – Stephen Murphy came to his side’s rescue with a fine save to deny Enda Morrissey – but they did get a break when Liam Blanchfield found the net before the second half’s water break.
But points from Eoin Wall and Robbie Buckley made sure O’Loughlin’s kept their noses in front, despite a late wave of pressure from their rivals.
Dicksboro made it a clean sweep for the city’s three senior teams when they beat the Rower-Inistioge by 2-15 to 0-12 while the final game of the weekend saw Clara score a good 1-21 to 0-16 win over Graigue-Ballycallan.