Ballyhale Shamrocks secured their place in an eighth Kilkenny senior hurling decider in 10 years (against reigning champions Clara) with a routine 1-19 to 0-14 victory over St Martin’s at a sunblessed Nowlan Park yesterday.
Andy Moloney’s side were more or less unbackable favourites approaching the first of the day’s semis, thanks in no small part to their evisceration of a decent Danesfort side in the last eight in which they put up a score of 5-23.
Those figures certainly seemed to inform this game, with Martin’s manager Charlie Carter sending out a side designed to contain Ballyhale’s fearsome forward line — one boasting five inter-county All-Ireland winners — but the policy of containment only worked for so long.
With number 15 Paul Maher holding down the role of sweeper, Martin’s sacrificed a forward to keep tabs on Henry Shefflin, TJ Reid, who ultimately hit seven points from frees, and Colin Fennelly — understandably enough — and it worked a treat for the first quarter or so.
Cracks eventually appeared however and the prospect of victory finally disappeared for the underdogs within six short minutes midway through the second-half when centre-back Patrick Nolan saw red and Mark Aylward scored the only goal.
For Martin’s, it marks yet another worthy championship venture brought to a close at the familiar and frustrating semi-final stage. Shamrocks will hope their vanquished opponent’s recent habit of losing to the eventual champions continues on November 16.
Ballyhale will face reigning champions Clara in the decider after they eased to a 14-point victory, 1-19 to 0-8 over Carrickshock.
Surprisingly, this was a game Clara dominated virtually from start to finish.
A repeat of last year’s decider, when a late Lester Ryan goal grabbed the title for Clara at the expense of a Carrickshock side looking for senior honours for the first time since 1951, this was flat from the off and dead long before the end.
For ’Shock, it could have been even worse.
Clara produced 15 wides, almost equally distributed between both halves, and, like Ballyhale in the game before them, they looked to be pottering about in second or third gear long before the allotted time was up.
Both should at least have plenty in reserve for the final. For Carrickshock it begs so many questions, but chief among them yesterday was whether their two-game quarter-final epic with Rower-Inistioge had simply left them drained for what should have been a shot at redemption for 2013. Strangely, it was Clara who seemed to possess the greater appetite and the loss of influential attacker Conor Phelan or the absence of the injured defender Shane Prendergast affected them in no way at all.
Both Keith Hogan and Conor O’Shea were excellent in attack for Clara — as were Liam Ryan, who scored three points of his own, and the hard-working Austin Murphy — but Clara’s main achievement was in negating the input of the Powers at the other end.
In all, four Powers filled attacking briefs for ’Shock yesterday and they managed just two points from play between them.
Clara were seven points to two up and then ten to four when half-time approached. Not insurmountable by any means, and certainly not reflective enough of their dominance, but the killer blow was imminent.
With the referee checking his watch, ’Shock goalkeeper John Butler attempted a short puck-out which instead found its way into the hands of Clara corner-forward Chris Bolger who teed James Nolan up for a low finish under the exposed custodian.
What air there was still in proceedings pretty much escaped right there and then and the extent to which it rattled Carrickshock was apparent on the restart when centre-back John Tennyson attempted an impossible shot at goal from distance when a point was on.
Carrickshock did manage to tick off three points in a row at the start of the second-half, but they put up only one more in the closing 24 minutes as Clara continued to dictate possession and dominate their opponents’ attacking threats.
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