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Crushed by King Henry

AND so, that most unpredictable of competitions -- the AIB All-Ireland Club Championship -- gets the final that just about everyone predicted.

That champions Portumna qualified for the decider came as no shock at all. Ballyhale Shamrocks' Paddy's Day presence was a little less assured however but they came through a full and thorough test of their All-Ireland credentials yesterday in Thurles, beating Newtownshandrum by 0-19 to 0-17 in Semple Stadium.

The margin of victory is a little tighter than Ballyhale have been used to in recent years (Portumna aside) but then the Cork champions had their own ambitions of dining at club hurling's top table.

And for plenty of yesterday's proceedings, they seemed well equipped with most of the necessary implements -- besides, of course, Henry Shefflin.



SPARKLING

There's only one Henry Shefflin and unfortunately for Newtownshandrum, he was at his sparkling, brilliant best yesterday.

A haul of 13 points, just one wide and a near unblemished placed-ball taking percentage were the material offerings from King Henry yesterday but his contribution was seemingly infinite.

His touch, vision, invention and strength set up scores and scoring chances for the Ballyhale sharpshooters in an open, fluid and entertaining contest and he, more than any other man, helped set up a Paddy's Day shoot-out to drool over with the man who would be king -- Joe Canning.

"I'm delighted. We worked hard there for the last four weeks," said Ballyhale manager Michael Fennelly afterwards. "It was a big aim since the start of 2010 to get back with where we were at after the Leinster final. I knew we weren't at our peak in training but today they weren't far off that."

Neither, though, were Newtownshandrum and while they hurled with aplomb and no obvious signs of trepidation, they were never able to stop Shefflin.

TJ Reid was held to a single point, as was brother Eoin and Colin Fennelly, but Shefflin punished Newtown' in the harshest fashion each and every time he won possession.

And though the Rebels were just three down at half-time -- 0-13 to 0-10 -- that gap would have more closely represented a chasm were it not for the outstanding goalkeeping of William Biggane, who saved three one-on-ones.

He didn't appear for the second half due to an ankle injury but Ballyhale 'keeper James Connolly made sure the custodians stayed in the spotlight after a brilliant save to deny Cathal Naughton after the break and then to keep out Ryan Clifford's penalty with a diving save to his right.

Had Clifford converted, Newtownshandrum would have led but Shefflin just kept his foot firmly on the jugular at the other end and, in truth, Newtown were overly reliant on the placed balls of Ben O'Connor (nine) for oxygen on the scoreboard. They did, however, have a fine chance to win the game in the last minute while trailing by a point. Just as Jamie Coughlin seemed to have burst through for a goal chance, Shamrocks full-back Aidan Cummins hauled him down with a neck-high tackle, earning just a yellow card for his sins.

"There was a few mistakes and a lack of experience on the part of a few of our fellas," reflected Newtown manager, Phil Noonan. "But overall, we're happy with our performance and the lads and hopefully we'll learn from it and be back again."

For Ballyhale now, the task is a familiar yet daunting one.

"We were expecting that," replied Fennelly when informed of Portumna's victory in Parnell Park. "Portumna are there, they're going for three in a row so now we can work for the next four weeks and plot their downfall, hopefully."

Easier said than done.


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