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Ballyhale make it six of the best with final stroll

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Colin Fennelly shoots to score Bayllyhale Shamrocks’ goal against Kilmallock in Croke Park yesterday

Colin Fennelly shoots to score Bayllyhale Shamrocks’ goal against Kilmallock in Croke Park yesterday

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Kevin ODonnell, Kilmallock, in action against Patrick Reid, Ballyhale Shamrocks

Kevin ODonnell, Kilmallock, in action against Patrick Reid, Ballyhale Shamrocks

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Henry Shefflin gives a thumbs-up to Ballyhale’s record sixth All-Ireland title

Henry Shefflin gives a thumbs-up to Ballyhale’s record sixth All-Ireland title

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Captain TJ Reid leads the celebrations

Captain TJ Reid leads the celebrations

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Colin Fennelly shoots to score Bayllyhale Shamrocks’ goal against Kilmallock in Croke Park yesterday

All-Ireland club hurling finals, unlike their inter-county equivalent, are developing an unlikely habit of turning into damp squibs devoid of any real cut and thrust.

This fell right into that category, the result done and dusted once Henry Shefflin batted a puck-out from Richie Reid into Colin Fennelly's path in the 26th minute and the full-forward obliged with customary ruthlessness for their only goal. By then Kilmallock were well on their way to amassing their 10 first-half wides, and the sight of Fennelly racing into a gap compounding their already sinking morale.

Unless you are from Ballyhale or Portumna, these opportunities don't come around often so to perform as abjectly as they did makes it an even more disappointing visit to Croke Park on such a prestigious day.

Kilmallock's defeat brings to 11 the number of All-Ireland final defeats Limerick teams, club and county, have suffered since the 1973 All-Ireland senior title win. Only Blackrock in the club junior hurling final have managed to break that cycle in 2010.

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James Cha Fitzpatrick, Ballyhale Shamrocks, in action against Gavin O'Mahony, Kilmallock

James Cha Fitzpatrick, Ballyhale Shamrocks, in action against Gavin O'Mahony, Kilmallock

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James Cha Fitzpatrick, Ballyhale Shamrocks, in action against Gavin O'Mahony, Kilmallock

For Ballyhale and Kilkenny, the picture is so much different. This was a third All-Ireland club success for this team, matching the three between 1981 and 1990 that their predecessors stockpiled to make them the most successful club of all. The bragging rights in the village are even now. For Henry Shefflin, the milestones keep coming. This was a 13th All-Ireland senior title won in Croke Park, a 15th All-Ireland title (including the 1999 All-Ireland U-21 and 1996 colleges success with St Kieran's). His number of Croke Park final wins has now risen to a staggering 27.

All winter he has fended off questions about retirement but acknowledged afterwards that the time to make a call was imminent. He will make a decision over the weekend. "I've been very balanced (about it). There are occasions when one of the lads goes and you say to yourself 'Will I go?'," he said.

"Then you watch a match and you say 'Will I stay?'. So it's to-ing and fro-ing a bit like that. I said I was going to see how I was, see how my body was and I'm very comfortable with that decision.

"People ask was today a factor, but it wasn't. I would love to have been going out and scoring five points, but it wasn't about me - it was about Ballyhale winning. It wasn't about one 60 minutes, it was about the overall picture."

SHUDDERING

He didn't have his most memorable outing in Croke Park but he still contributed two points and set something of a tone with a shuddering shoulder to knock Kilmallock defender Kevin O'Donnell back at the end of the opening quarter. There was a touch of 'welcome to the real world' about it.

Kilmallock had peppered the Ballyhale full-back line early on with so much direct ball in the hope of finding openings that had been apparent in some of their previous outings. Even Ballyhale manager Andy Moloney admitted that potential vulnerability afterwards.

"If you were to look at us on DVD the last couple of matches, you'd say the full-back line was one place where we were going to be exploited. In fairness, they came up to the mark today. Alan Cuddihy, Keith Nolan and Joey Holden were exceptional. We were coughing up goal chances. Today we didn't."

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Kieran Kenneally, Kilmallock, scores a goal which was disallowed

Kieran Kenneally, Kilmallock, scores a goal which was disallowed

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Kieran Kenneally, Kilmallock, scores a goal which was disallowed

The trio might not always have cleared their lines easily under pressure but their ball-winning was immense and Holden was a deserved man of the match.

Further up the field, TJ Reid left a deep imprint on the contest as it progressed. It wasn't the perfect performance from Reid either - half their tally of 12 wides came off his stick - but he was still the dominant figure in the middle third where his fielding was such a feature. Twice he caught clearances from brother Richie in goals and swung them straight over the bar.

"To try and keep TJ tied down to one place is hard so you're better off letting him run around the field," said Moloney. "His hand is his biggest asset and when he gets it in his hand it's very hard to get it off him."

The ambition to match the team of the 1980s/'90s has been quite palpable, according to Moloney. "It was a driving factor, even for myself as manager of the team and Colm (Bonnar). We wanted to be part of a group where we equalled what the great team of the '80s did with the Fennellys.

"Those names are still around today, the Reids are still around, all their sons are coming through and they've won a third All-Ireland title. The other factor is that they probably felt they left themselves down over the last couple of years where they didn't come out of Kilkenny and probably felt they should have and won their third title a little bit earlier."

Kilmallock's profligacy really hurt them. Paudie O'Brien had a spell of dominance early on at midfield but he hit four of their first eight wides and subsequently faded from battle. Gavin O'Mahony never got into the game either.

It might have been different had a third-minute 'goal' not been disallowed, Kieran Kenneally deemed to have been in the square when Jake Mulcahy's delivery from distance squirted through Richie Reid's grasp. Ballyhale inched ahead but were relying heavily on their full-back line to keep Kilmallock at arm's length while Michael Fennelly was also a strong defensive cog at centre-back.

Graeme Mulcahy did manage to find room to swing a point over his shoulder on 23 minutes to reduce the gap to 0-6 to 0-4 but it was a close as they got.

Fennelly's goal gave Ballyhale a 1-7 to 0-4 platform and when Shefflin, now at full-forward, substitute Mark Aylward and Eoin Reid with his third extended the lead to nine points within nine minutes of the restart and the hum among the 29,752 became much more audible. Kilmallock got a consolation goal when sub Robbie Hanley was put through by Eoin Ryan but its impact was purely cosmetic.

Their manager Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin admitted they were "flat" throughout. "The seeds were sown in the first half when we had 10 wides. We needed to be getting five or six of those. And they were scoreable. We'd have been going in (at half-time) in contention but we weren't taking them. You need to be taking those against a team like Ballyhale. We were flat in the second half. We just couldn't score, and that's the disappointment. We're better than what we showed today but it's been a tremendous year."

For Shefflin, getting a third club title to balance the books is an "unbelievable achievement". "I grew up in a pub in Ballyhale and the first team in '91 were just after completing their third All-Ireland. I didn't realise at that time how hard it is so for ourselves to come along and achieve that feat as well is absolutely brilliant."

scorers - Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 0-6 (4fs), C Fennelly 1-3, E Reid 0-3, H Shefflin, M Aylward 0-2 each, B Aylward, A Cuddihy 0-1 each. Kilmallock: R Hanley 1-0, E Ryan 0-3 (3fs), R Egan, P O'Brien, G Mulcahy all 0-1 each.

Ballyhale - R Reid 7; K Nolan 7, J Holden 9, A Cuddihy 8; P Shefflin 7, M Fennelly 8, A Cummins 7; C Walsh 7, B Aylward 7; J Fitzpatrick 7, H Shefflin 7, TJ Reid 9; P Reid 5, C Fennelly 8, E Reid 8. Subs: M Aylward 7 for P Reid (h-t), T Coogan for Nolan (57), D Hoyne for Walsh (58), M Dermody for P Shefflin (59).

Kilmallock - B Hennessy 7; L Hurley 6, M O'Loughlin 6, A Costello 6; L Walsh 5, Philip O'Loughlin 7, K O'Donnell 6; P O'Brien 6, B O'Sullivan 5; J Mulcahy 5, G O'Mahony 5, R Egan 5; G Mulcahy 6, K Kenneally 4, E Ryan 6. Subs: Paddy O'Loughlin 5 for Kenneally (24), R Hanley 6 for Egan (44), C Barry for O'Sullivan (56), A O'Shaugnessy for E Ryan (59).

Ref - J Owens (Wexford)

The game at a glance

Attendance: 29,752

Man of the Match

Joey Holden (Ballyhale)

Kilmallock may have tried to target the Ballyhale full-back line but he was more than up to the task, the new Kilkenny captain seeing off his direct opponent Kieran Kenneally as early as the 24th minute with great anticipation and forceful play. A deserved man of the match.

Turning point

It was tilting Ballyhale's way anyway before Colin Fennelly raced through a gap in the 24th minute and scored their only goal to open a five-point lead. Kilmallock heads dropped after that.

Talking point

Another disappointing club hurling final failed to engage the crowd. Ballyhale had too much star quality to fail here as Henry Shefflin claimed his 13th All-Ireland senior title.

Magic moment

Bob Aylward's point, Ballyhale's first, a bouncing ball hit first time that sailed over from 50 metres.

Ref watch

James Owens wasn't tested too much and did well but didn't show yellow to Kilmallock's Mark O'Loughlin when he cynically took down Colin Fennelly early on to deny a certain goal chance.

What they said

Andy Moloney (Ballyhale manager)

"If you were to look at us on DVD the last couple of matches, you'd say the full-back line was one place where we were going to be exploited. In fairness, they came up to the mark today."

Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin (Kilmallock manager)

"We're awful disappointed with our display. but it's just one of those days, 1-6 is not going to win you any match."

Irish Independent