Fennelly on fire as six-shooting Ballyhale show ruthless side
Ballyhale Shamrocks 6-21 Naomh Éanna 4-11
Like sharks sensing blood in the water, Ballyhale Shamrocks went straight for the throat of Wexford rookies Naomh Éanna and didn't relent until they had slaughtered their prey by 16 points.
It seems the ruthlessness of Brian Cody's great Kilkenny teams has been passed down to his most successful disciple, with Henry Shefflin's Ballyhale making a habit of conducting business with the minimum of fuss.
The Kilkenny kingpins took on their man every time a chance presented itself, with goals the only thing on their mind - an approach typified by Colin Fennelly.
Finishing with a staggering 4-4 from play, Fennelly was in an unstoppable mood and his performance was made all the more remarkable having only returned from Sydney with Kilkenny in recent days.
"I know this year wasn't a great year at county level, and some people were questioning him, but since he came back for me he's worked and worked," Shefflin said of the superb Fennelly.
Brilliant "He wasn't scoring in some of our matches, but I still thought he was brilliant. Then he went to Australia, minded himself over there, as did the other three boys (Joey Holden as well as TJ and Richie Reid), and he came back, wanted to do it."
The script looked like it might be ripped up in the early minutes when Naomh Éanna shot out of the blocks and led 2-1 to 0-1 with Wexford panellist Cathal Dunbar causing havoc.
Having missed their quarter-final victory over Camross through suspension, Dunbar whipped a lovely groundstroke to the net before capitalising on a stray short puck-out from Dean Mason and raising another green flag two minutes later.
Hopes were high that a shock could be on the cards at Innovate Wexford Park but the ever-reliable TJ Reid settled Ballyhale as they weathered an early storm, with older brother Eoin firing a goal on 14 minutes after Naomh Éanna goalkeeper Barry Kinsella was caught in possession.
A goal didn't look on the cards when Fennelly won the ball four minutes later but he put his head down, with the onion bag his only thought before blasting past Kinsella as they averted disaster in style to lead by 2-4 to 2-3. It was tit for tat until the break, with Dunbar and Pádraig Doyle keeping the Gorey side in touch but crucially, Reid had the final say with two beauties on the stroke of half-time to leave them three ahead after an entertaining first half, 2-9 to 2-6.
The writing was on the wall for what was to come when Fennelly created a goal chance from nothing 45 seconds into the new half, and he made no mistake just minutes later when rifling to the net after collecting a free from Richie Reid.
Sixty seconds later he took a pass from Eoin Reid before finishing and they reeled off the next four scores, with impressive attacker Adrian Mullen pointing twice while Eoin Cody helped himself to 1-1 as they cruised into a 5-13 to 2-7 advantage.
With Joey Holden nullifying star man Conor McDonald, Naomh Éanna were struggling for traction up front aside from Doyle and Dunbar, but Jack Cullen was doing his bit from wing-back and surged forward for a brilliant goal to bring his personal tally to 1-2.
Despite the game being over as a contest in the final quarter, Ballyhale showed their unforgiving attitude, with Reid flicking a close-range free to Fennelly for his fourth goal before McDonald closed proceedings with a penalty on a frustrating afternoon.
One bad result won't define Naomh Éanna's season, however, with manager Louis Cullen hoping to return to the Leinster stage again after claiming their maiden Wexford crown. "Winning the first county final is something we'll cherish for the rest of our lives and it's something the lads achieved through hard work and grit. We were probably in bonus territory at this stage," Cullen said. "It's not the result we wanted but they're a good group and they will come back. When you're playing a team of that calibre, you have to learn from it."
Shefflin is another still learning his craft but the ten-time All-Ireland winner is making a good fist of his first venture into management as they eye their ninth Leinster crown. His playing days may be behind him - although the demand for photographs hasn't relented - but you can tell he still revels in competition.
Learning "I think we're learning the whole time. We were well ahead in the county final, and let Bennettsbridge back into it, and we weren't going to let that happen again, and that's why they drove out very well," he said.
"It's good, it's challenging, and again I think we're learning as we go as well. It's enjoyable, great to be still going, and no different to a player, it's great to be standing here looking forward to a Leinster final, to shorten the winter that bit anyway. As a manager, it's great to keep going like that."
SCORERS - Ballyhale: C Fennelly 4-4, TJ Reid 0-6 (0-1f, 0-1 '65), E Cody 1-1, A Mullen 0-3, E Reid 1-0, B Cody 0-2, R Corcoran, E Shefflin, R Reid, D Mullen, J Cuddihy 0-1 each. Naomh éanna: C Dunbar 2-3, P Doyle 0-6 (3f, 0-1 '65), J Cullen 1-2, C McDonald 1-0 (penalty).
BALLYHALE - D Mason; E Shefflin, J Holden, B Butler; R Reid, M Fennelly, D Mullen; C Walsh, R Corcoran; A Mullen, TJ Reid, B Cody; E Reid, C Fennelly, E Cody. Subs: M Aylward for Walsh and G Butler for E Reid (both 50), J Cuddihy for A Mullen (54), K Mullen for Butler (57), P Mullen for M Fennelly (58).
NAOMH ÉANNA - B Kinsella; T Stafford, B Travers, L Kinsella; J Cullen, S Doyle, E Conroy; A Doyle, G Molloy; C McGovern, P Doyle, D Hughes; D O'Brien, C McDonald, C Dunbar. Subs: J Cushe for L Kinsella inj (21), W Cullen for Hughes (38), C Hughes for O'Brien (45).
REF - J McGrath (Westmeath)