Mullen double helps Shamrocks breeze past 'Boden
Leinster club SHC final: Ballyhale Shamrocks 2-21 Ballyboden St Endas 0-11
Henry Shefflin stands under a low December sky, smiling that wise smile of his as the miracle of Ballyhale unwraps another chapter.
A community of little more than a hundred houses in south Kilkenny, glued together by love of the old game, crowds around him again, celebrating their record ninth Leinster Club hurling title. There's a line in Henry's autobiography that reads: "Without the game, it's hard to imagine who and what we would be."
And it's a line that echoes through so much of rural Ireland; the sense of place to be taken from a team; sometimes from a single person. Henry jokes that they might have to discuss their Christmas training schedule over a few pints in Carrolls of Knocktopher later. As he chats, among those meeting him in a warm embrace is his mother, Mai.
There's a rhythm to these days and the Shefflins know the beat of it.
Ballyhale have just beaten Dublin champions, Ballyboden St Enda's, in a provincial final that petered out far too early for the liking of neutrals. And the cheap, glib line might be that the village boys just mowed down a city super-club with 84 teams on the go. But that line would surely miss the point hopelessly here.
Because Ballyhale's tightness, its intimacy, is and always has been its strength. Henry grew up watching the Fennellys win all before them. That stretched his own horizons to infinity, seeing neighbours come home with All-Ireland medals in their pockets.
His first year in management then, with a brother (Tommy) as selector and nephew (Evan) hurling at wing-back brings him to this familiar place now. A place outsiders maybe imagine comes easily to Ballyhale.
But Henry sees this as an accident of timing.
The spine of his team carries names familiar to us all - Joey Holden, Michael Fennelly, TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly. Hurling bluebloods. But there's a sprinkling of last year's championship-winning U-21s breaking through too, not to mention the sight of his old school buddy, Bob Aylward, still togging out for a place on the bench.
So the age spectrum of this group may have as much as a 20-year spread. And Henry knows that that's not an everyday thing.
Someone says to him that he's making management look easy and he bats the silliness away. "It's not easy, I'm learning the whole time," he says seriously. "I've a great backroom team behind me. Look, 30 lads togged out today, six not allowed tog out. Five years ago, we'd have had 28, 27, 26. We've just had the numbers.
"But you have to realise how small the population in Ballyhale is. To turn out the number we turn out, hurling-wise, is absolutely brilliant.
"And we would have spoken about a bit of respect, respect in Kilkenny. Kilkenny hurling had hit a bit of a wobble the last couple of years, so the junior (Dunnamaggin) and intermediate (Graigue-Ballycallan) teams winning yesterday and the senior team winning now is a good bonus for the lads."
So Ballyhale won this pretty much as they chose in the end, but Ballyboden weren't helped by a vicious turn in the weather.
Coming out for the second half just four points adrift, they found Netwatch Cullen Park suddenly swamped in Dickensian darkness and an angry gale whipping sheets of rain into their faces.
"I couldn't believe it," said their manager Joe Fortune.
With the floodlights on and umbrellas jigging manically, Ballyhale just eased away without having to over-stretch themselves.
Within 15 minutes of the resumption, they'd gone ten points clear, Ballyboden struggling to work ball into their forwards let alone conduct any exercise in quality control.
The Kilkenny champions had got off to a flier, Adrian Mullen goaling in just the eighth minute after great work by Eoin Reid. But the resilience that franked 'Boden's progress to this final was in evidence again as they outscored Ballyhale by 0-7 to 0-3 over the next 16 minutes to draw level.
Ballyhale might have been doing most of the hurling, but their wides tally accumulated at a rate that had to be worrying for manager Shefflin.
By the time, Aidan Mellett registered Ballyboden's first wide in the 25th minute, their opponents had already leaked eight.
And by the mid-point that tally would have slipped into double digits, albeit Ballyhale got the last four scores of the half (three frees from TJ Reid and a point from his brother, Eoin) to go in at the break with a four-point advantage (1-9 to 0-8).
Shefflin was well aware of the figures mind, telling us that their ten first-half wides amounted to a 41 per cent conversion rate, something that would have offended him as a player.
We didn't know it at the time, but Ballyhale's work was actually done. By the time Mullen scored his second goal in the 53rd minute, 'Boden's hopes of a first Leinster crown had been well and truly lost.
As Fortune surmised: "There's a lot of people who wrote that team off over the last couple of years and, look, they've given it everything. Just on the day itself, Ballyhale were that bit better. From an outsider's perspective, it might have looked like a poor showing at times.
"But we kept at it. Those lads will be devastated now."
Would an extra week's rest after the marathon semi-final against Coolderry have helped?
Fortune didn't knock the thought but, to be fair, wasn't exactly beating a drum to that effect either.
He knew what he'd seen. We all did.
SCORERS - Ballyhale: TJ Reid 0-9 (8f); A Mullen 2-1; E Reid and E Cody 0-3 each; C Fennelly 0-2; E Shefflin, M Fennelly and R Corcoran 0-1 each.
Ballyboden: P Ryan 0-5fs, C Basquel and N Ryan 0-2 each, S Durkin, N McMorrow 0-1 each.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS - D Mason; B Butler, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, R Reid; C Walsh, R Corcoran; A Mullen, TJ Reid, B Cody; E Reid, C Fennelly, E Cody. Subs: G Butler for Walsh (38), M Aylward for B Cody (50), J Cuddihy for E Reid (53), K Mullen for Butler (56), P Mullen for Corcoran (56).
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA'S - G Maguire, D O'Connor, L Corcoran, J Madden, S Lambert, D Curtin, D Curran, S Durkin, S O'Connor, C Keaney, C Dooley, N McMorrow, A Mellett, C Basquel, P Ryan. Subs: N Ryan for Dooley (32), P Doherty for Mellett (35), F McGarry for Curran (47), C McCormack for D O'Connor (53), M Travers for S O'Connor (55).
Ref - P Murphy (Carlow)