OULART-THE BALLAGH 1-11 BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS (KILKENNY) 1-10
EOIN MOORE had the last word in this titanic tussle as his 80-metre point deep into additional time handed Oulart-The Ballagh a dramatic victory over Ballyhale Shamrocks after an enthralling AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship semi-final at Wexford Park on Saturday last.
The Wexford champions surged back in the second-half, having been put to the sword by the Kilkenny men through the opening 30 minutes. Ballyhale clearly missed the injured Henry Shefflin who was forced out of the game midway through the opening period, only managing one second-half point in his absence.
Despite their lack of scores after the break, the Kilkenny champions looked like holding on as the game moved two minutes deep into additional time. At this juncture Moore gained possession some 80 metres from goal and kept his composure to loft over a sweet point, giving his side the lead for the first time, and at a crucial juncture as it left their opponents with no time to fashion a levelling score.
Having lost successive provincial finals, Oulart-The Ballagh were determined to make their mark, and this could be seen when team captain Keith Rossiter reflected on what was a dramatic game.
'They got the early goal, a dream start, and we were six points down after just five minutes, but the lads' heads never dropped. Leading up to the interval we had fallen seven points behind but the goal from Garrett Sinnott just before the break gave us a huge lift.
'It will be said they lost Henry Shefflin in the first-half, but we lost Shaun Murphy at a crucial stage of the second period. We have won a semi-final, but there's no silverware yet. We have played 27 games in Wexford Park over the last nine years so it's something of a home venue for us. We are unbeaten this year so we'll be determined to maintain our one hundred per cent record,' Rossiter said.
'Last year we lost to Offaly champions Coolderry so we'll be focussed for next Sunday. In last year's final we hit 16 wides; you cannot win a game with that, but this will be equally tough as the Offaly championship is always difficult to win. We will not underestimate them in any way.
Ballyhale Shamrocks manager, Tommy Shefflin, was left to rue the disallowing of two goals, one in each half.
'Michael Fennelly was penalised for over-carrying having goaled after a great run in the first-half. In the second their 'keeper lost possession and Colin Fennelly goaled, but a free out was awarded for what I don't know. But that's the way it goes,' he said.
'Look, when a team gives one hundred per cent no one can be critical. They gave it their all but credit to Oulart-The Ballagh as they never gave up battling. It was a cruel way to lose as that was the only time we were headed in the game.
'Henry was a huge loss. He went over on his ankle, it may be a broken bone or a fracture, we're not sure at the moment. We'll have to wait for x-ray results. We're not taking from Oulart in any way.'
Ballyhale Shamrocks got off to a blistering start, with 'Cha' Fitzpatrick hitting over a huge opening point inside 30 seconds. They continued to press as Michael Fennelly set up Eoin Reid for a point, while Fitpatrick maintained his amazing club championship form with another excellent point.
After four minutes Colin Fennelly slipped inside Keith Rossiter and carried the ball a few metres into space before crashing a superb shot past Ben O'Connor in the home goal, leaving his side leading by 1-3 to nil.
It was a hectic opening spell for Oulart-The Ballagh, who had to wait until the sixth minute for their opening score, a Rory Jacob point. They went on to hit three further unanswered points through Conor O'Leary, David Redmond with a fine effort from midfield and Jacob with his second, reducing the deficit to 1-3 to 0-4 after twelve amazing minutes of hurling.
The great rivalry between these counties was patently evident as the hits went in, but it did not take from the standard of hurling. The Kilkenny champions responded with four quick points through 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, Henry Shefflin (free), Fitzpatrick this time from a free after Shefflin had retired injured, and a fine Fennelly effort, as they stormed back to lead by 1-7 to 0-4 after 20 minutes. Nicky Kirwan (free) and Fitzpatrick exchanged points, before Michael Fennelly was called back after finding the net four minutes before the break for over-carrying.
From an Oulart-The Ballagh perspective, having been on the back foot for so long, they got the crucial break one minute before the interval when Garrett Sinnott cut in along the end line to crash home a superb goal from an acute angle. And when David Redmond lofted over a fine point, they had reduced the deficit to three (1-9 to 1-6) at half-time.
The second period went a full seven minutes before the opening score, with Darren Nolan pointing, and a further effort from substitute Frank Cullen left the minimum separating the sides. Minutes later a great covering tackle from full-back Aidan Cummins denied Kirwan a goal.
After 40 minutes ' Cha' Fitzpatrick shot a superb point from out on the wing, but amazingly this proved his side's final score. Darren Nolan rowed in with a fine individual point for the home side, while ten minutes from the end a Kirwan pointed '65 had the sides level, minutes after he had once again been denied a goal by the excellent Cummins.
Both defences were doing well to withstand periods of pressure during the closing ten minutes. Extra-time was beckoning as the game went into the second minute of additional time when Moore, thinking quickly having been placed by a Darren Stamp pass, went for the jugular, with the ball sailing high over the centre of the bar at the town end for as dramatic a winner as one will ever see.