LOOKS like it was a cracker, doesn’t it, 36 scores in a 60-minute game between two of the premier clubs in the game over the past several years?
Looks deceive, however, on this occasion as the All-Ireland Club senior hurling semi-final between the winners of 2007 (Ballyhale) and the winners of 2004 (Newtown), was a free-ridden error-fest, a game that was just bursting to break out but never quite made it.
Ten points from placed balls for Ballyhale’s Henry Shefflin and nine for Newtown’s Ben O’Connor, yet this wasn’t a dirty game by any means, despite the late, injury-time red card issued to Newtownshandrum substitute Maurice Farrell. It was just that both sides were stale, rusty and showed the effects of a long competitive layoff.
What we witnessed in Semple Stadium yesterday bolstered the argument, surely, for this competition to be played to its conclusion on an open-draw calendar-year basis.
Neither side was anywhere near maximum capacity but Newtownshandrum were the ones more off the pace of their own regular free-flowing game, and ultimately, paid the price.
The first half was dominated by Ballyhale. Playing with the aid of a stiff breeze, they led at the break by three points, 0-13 to 0-10, but it could as easily have been three goals.
In the 4th minute, the 11th, the 17th, the 25th, the 28th, Newtown keeper William Biggane was called on to make either a big save or an under-pressure catch to keep his side in the game. Despite that, one would also have to question the finishing of the Ballyhale forwards – two of those shots were from narrow angles and should have been pointed, while two more should have been goaled.
It was not what you’d expect from a Kilkenny team, normally lethal in that kind of situation. In the second half, after Newtown were forced into a change of keeper (young Biggane injured just before the break and replaced by the experienced Paul Morrissey), Ballyhale missed a golden opportunity to wrap up the game. In the 53rd minute, with Shefflin in splendid isolation 20m from goal and screaming for the pass, full-forward Paddy Reid opted to shoot under pressure from wide right but drove wide.
From the Newtownshandrum perspective, however, it was even worse. Hard as they tried, they just could not get their running/possession game going. The goal opportunities missed at the other end aside, that they were as close as they were to Ballyhale at the break was due to their sheer doggedness. But even at that stage, and even allowing for the wind, it was obvious – the first touch you normally associate with this team, was off.
Even the twins, Ben and Jerry O’Connor, the two who have carried Newtownshandrum to success after success since 1996, struggled – when is the last time anyone can remember that happening?
And yet, in that second half, granted the reprieve by the stuttering Shamrocks attack, Newtown came close and could even have won this game. Where it was Ballyhale missing the goal chances in the first half, now it was the turn of the Corkmen: a half-chance ground flick by Jamie Coughlan that flew across the face of the goal and out wide almost immediately after the restart. Then, in the 34th minute, a superb save by keeper James Connolly denied the flying Cathal Naughton (by far Newtown’s most impressive performer). Three minutes later, it was Connolly again to the fore, stopping a Ryan Clifford penalty after big James Bowles was fouled. And finally, in the 58th minute, Newtown coming in search of the winner, it was Connolly again to the rescue, batting out a dangerous centre.
A litany of missed chances, a succession of hard-luck stories; throw in the points gifted to Ballyhale when a couple of experienced defenders were caught – needlessly – in possession, and when it’s all added up it’s Newtownshandrum bowing out, Ballyhale progressing. On the day’s play, just about deserved, but improvement will be needed if they’re to put a stop to the Portumna gallop.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: H. Shefflin 0-13 (0-8 frees, 0-2 65’s); M. Aylward 0-2; E. Reid, TJ Reid, C. Fennelly, J. Fitzpatrick, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Newtownshandrum: B. O’Connor 0-9 (0-7 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 s/l); M. Bowles 0-3; R. Clifford 0-2; Jerry O’Connor 0-2; C. Naughton 0-1.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: J. Connolly; A. Cuddihy, A. Cummins, T. Coogan; P. Shefflin, E. Walsh (c), B. Aylward; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Fennelly; C. Fennelly, H. Shefflin, TJ Reid; E. Reid, P. Reid, M. Aylward.
Sub: J. Holden (P. Shefflin 60+1).
NEWTOWNSHANDRUM: W. Biggane; J. O’Mahony, B. Mulcahy, D. Gleeson (c); S. O’Riordan, P. Mulcahy, P. Noonan; PJ Copse, C. Naughton; R. Clifford, Jerry O’Connor, M. Bowles; J. Coughlan, J. Bowles, B. O’Connor.
Subs: P. Morrissey (Biggane inj. 30); J. Herlihy (Copse 54); John O’Connor (Clifford 54); M. Farrell (J. Bowles 58).
Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary).
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