Ballyhale Shamrocks, the All-Ireland club hurling champions and five in-a-row championship chasers in Kilkenny, got a sharp reminder of how difficult life will be without Henry Shefflin when they crashed to defeat against great rivals James Stephens in the SHL final.
Shamrocks, who were chasing a fifth consecutive win in the league, were beaten on the line thanks to a 62nd-minute point from Eoin McCormack which earned Stephens a battling 1-18 to 1-17 victory, their first in the competition.
The loss of Shefflin has narrowed the gap between Shamrocks and the rest and Saturday’s win for Stephens will give other contenders a huge boost.
The winners were on fire early on, and after 16 minutes they led 1-7 to 0-2 in front thanks to a goal from Eoin Larkin. However, Shamrocks sneaked backed into the match, and a 21st-minute goal from James Walsh helped get them back to level terms of 1-9 each at the break.
Six times the scores were level in second-half. The last time was in the 61st-minute when Stephens free taker, David Walton landed his 12th point to level the match at 1-17 each. Just as the match looked set for extra-time up stepped McCormack to shoot the winning point from 40 metres.
In the Shield final – played between the runners-up after the league section of games – Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) scored a good 4-13 to 2-18 win over O’Loughlin/Gaels.
Both sides were missing key players, but the contest warmed up in the second-half after a dour opening period at the end of which O’Loughlin’s led by 1-12 to 0-9.
Erin’s Own were back level by the 38th minute (1-13 to 2-10) but when O’Loughlin’s drove 2-15 to 2-10 ahead five minutes later with the aid of a goal from Danny Loughnane the city side looked well capable of winning. However, they faded after that and Erin’s Own sneaked through for their first win in the competition.
All four teams, James Stephens, Shamrocks, Erin’s Own and O’Loughlin/Gaels earned the bonus of automatic inclusion in the quarter-finals of the championship.
In the first round of the knock-out championship, Carrickshock ended Graigue-Ballycallan’s season when they sneaked to an edgy 2-16 to 2-15 victory. The winners looked a sure bet to win when leading by 2-8 to 1-6 at the break after playing against the wind.
They looked an even better bet when they went 2-13 to 1-8 clear by the 36th minute. Things began to happen for Graigue. A point from Eddie Brennan was followed by a goal from James Smith and it was game on again.
As Graigue grew in confidence, Carrickshock faded badly and they were dragged back to level pegging of 2-14 each seven minutes from the end. The Shock were made sweat all the way to the finish, but they snatched the ticket into the quarter-finals.
Dunnamaggin did likewise, courtesy of a 1-11 to 0-10 win over Tommy Walsh’s Tullaroan. The winners were poor during the opening half and trailed by 0-3 to 0-7 at the break. However, they picked things up afterwards to edge through.
In the two first round/relegation semi-final games there were wins for Clara and St Martin’s (Muckalee) over Fenians (Johnstown) and intermediate champions, St Lachtain’s (Freshford) respectively.
Clara won a cracker of a game by 0-13 to 0-10 while Kilkenny panellist John Mulhall helped himself to five points as he inspired Martin’s to a 1-19 to 1-13 win.
The winners go through to the quarter-finals while Fenians and St Lachtain’s meet in the relegation final with the losers relegated.
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