Reids lead Ballyhale to glory
B'hale S'rocks 2-11 James Stephens 0-12
Ballyhale shamrocks didn't deviate from the resident theme on Noreside as they collected a third successive Kilkenny title at Nowlan Park yesterday.
But unlike the county team's September stroll to a third Liam McCarthy Cup, the reigning champions had to draw on levels of resilience that weren't required in either of their two previous final victories.
Ballyhale had beaten James Stephens in the league final by a massive 21 points. Locally, 12 and 15-point victories were being spoken of liberally and the bookies had posted odds of 1/8 on them earlier in the week to match the feats of the county team.
And when they went in at the break leading by seven points, 2-7 to 0-6, having played against the wind, those predictions looked well founded.
Some of the sorcery and touches of the Ballyhale forwards were wondrous and you suspected that if they cut loose in the second half they could really run up a score with the breath of talent they have.
But 'The Village' are true blue bloods of the Kilkenny club scene and have mined as much from this decade as Shamrocks, with one All-Ireland club title and two county titles in 2004 and 2005. They weren't going to wilt in a second final in as many weeks against the same opposition.
Inspired by the magnificent Jackie Tyrrell -- at centre-back for the second half having played at wing-back for the opening 30 minutes -- and aided and abetted by Donnacha Cody, they carried an impressive fight to Shamrocks to pare down a seven-point deficit to just three with five minutes remaining.
Were it not for some errant free-taking by Eoin Larkin and later David McCormack, that margin might have been a lot closer.
Shamrocks, so fluent in the opening half, lost their rhythm but were fortunate that their own defence held their nerve and prevented further leakage.
Full-back Eamonn Walsh was a towering figure throughout and threw himself bravely in front of a stinging Larkin shot with three minutes remaining, blocking it with a leg that took the full impact.
Centre-back Aidan Cummins was also impressive as Larkin was subdued throughout in a tight, tactical, hard hitting encounter.
Ballyhale got their break when, with James Stephens searching for a goal in a gripping finale, substitute Eoin McCormack was a little unfairly punished for overcarrying and from the resultant free Henry Shefflin powered over from deep inside his own half for a four point lead, 2-10 to 0-12.
Michael Fennelly followed up with a brilliant individual point and the title was safe again, the first three-in-a-row of senior titles since a previous Shamrocks team, adorned by the famous Fennelly brothers, pulled it off in 1978.
Ballyhale manager Maurice Aylward admitted relief and conceded his team was under pressure. "The second-half performance wasn't great.
"Maybe the Village threw it at us, I don't know. Our rhythm went, our shape went. We just couldn't get going. Maybe if it went on another five or six minutes we could have added as many points. As it was, the Village half-back line was outstanding, we just had no answer."
Aylward admitted his champions were caught by a touch of complacency in the second half.
"When you are seven points up after playing against a strong breeze maybe it gives you a false impression for the second half. We felt in the dressing room at half time that we had a lot of the hard work done but that we'd go out and really finish it off. It didn't happen for us.
"It often happens like that, maybe the pressure of three-in-a-row got to us but we're going to have to improve a lot if we are going to win a Leinster title," he admitted.
"This team wants to make their own history so the three-in-a-row was important. It's wonderful, especially in the year that Kilkenny won three-in-a-row.
"But if they had got a goal we would have been in serious trouble. Maybe it was the best thing that happened. We were 1/8 with the bookies in a two-horse race. It was ridiculous," concluded Aylward.
James Stephens had a few old veterans of past Kilkenny battles -- Philly Larkin, Brian McEvoy and Peter Barry -- who withdrew from the half-forward line to act as a seventh defender, riding shot-gun to Cody as they policed Shefflin's space.
But Ballyhale still squeezed through the congestion with Eoin and Patrick Reid hitting seventh and 22nd-minute goals to make the difference.
Eoin Reid's goal came from the craft of Shefflin, whose sublime turn and offload to Patrick Reid in the build up made the opening after Brendan Costello's initial back-flick to the former Kilkenny captain.
They might have had another goal too but Costello spurned another wonderful Shefflin pass on 26 minutes that allowed goalkeeper Francis Cantwell to gather.
It looked over at the break but substitute David Walton improved James Stephens' return and Cody drove over two placed balls, prompting that late, telling response from the champions.
Scorers -- Ballyhale Shamrocks: E Reid 1-2, P Reid 1-0, H Shefflin 0-3 (2f), T J Reid, J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (1 sl) 0-2 each, D Hoyne, M Fennelly 0-1 each. James Stephens: E Larkin 0-4 (3f), D Walton, D Cody (1f 1 65) 0-2 each, M Ruth, P Larkin, G Whelan, D McCormack 0-1 each.
Ballyhale Shamrocks -- J Connolly; P Shefflin, E Walsh, P Holden; M Dermody, A Cummins, B Aylward; J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly; D Hoyne, H Shefflin, T J Reid; P reid, E Reid, B Costello. Subs: M Aylward for Costello (45), G Fennelly for Dermody (49).
James Stephens -- F Cantwell; T Keogh, J Moran, N McQuillan, J Tyrrell, D Cody, S Campion; R Hayes, D McCormack; G Whelan, E Larkin, P Barry; M Ruth, P Larkin, B McEvoy. Subs: D Walton for McEvoy (28), J Murray for Whelan (49), E McCormack for Ruth (57).
Ref -- E Mansfield.