Saturday 23 February 2019

Shefflin's family fortunes

King Henry ‘surprised’ by progress of Ballyhale’s young guns after sealing All-Ireland final spot

9 February 2019; Eoin Cody of Ballyhale Shamrocks celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Ballyhale Shamrocks and Ballygunner at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
9 February 2019; Eoin Cody of Ballyhale Shamrocks celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Ballyhale Shamrocks and Ballygunner at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Eleven months after lasting just nine minutes in the All-Ireland colleges' final at Semple Stadium, 18-year-old Eoin Cody left an indelible impression on Saturday's All-Ireland club semi-final at the same venue.

His tally of 1-4 from open play - it could easily have been 2-3 as he tapped over the bar deep in injury time with the goal at his mercy - comfortably surpassed the paltry 0-3 from play which Munster champions Ballygunner mustered in a disappointing performance.

"He is talented and if you give him the ball he will finish it. The last time he was here, he came on as a sub for St Kieran's and was taken off again," said Ballyhale boss Henry Shefflin (pictured), who is an uncle of Cody and his older brother Brian, who started at wing-forward.

"So for any young lad, you just keep going. He's been skilful since he was a young chap and I'm delighted that his skill showed out there."

It has been a dream debut managerial season for the 10-time All-Ireland winner with Ballyhale back in their eighth All-Ireland club final and their first since 2015, when Shefflin won his third All-Ireland club medal.

His decision to blood a batch of youngsters last year has paid a handsome dividend.

Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo: Sportsfile
Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo: Sportsfile

Cody will be in action again on Wednesday for St Kieran's in the Leinster A Colleges semi-final against North Dublin. Ballyhale goalkeeper Dean Mason (18) and wing-forward Adrian Mullen (19) featured on last year's All-Ireland winning St Kieran's side.

The latter scored 0-2 as did his older brother Patrick, who caught the eye with an outstanding performance at midfield.

He initiated a move in the 44th minute which effectively decided the game. His long clearance was brilliantly fielded by Cody over the head of Harley Barnes. The corner forward then brushed off the challenge of Wayne Hutchinson to break clear and beat Stephen O'Keeffe from close range. Twenty-year old corner-back Darren is the third member of the Mullen family on the team - they are first cousins of the Fennelly brothers, Colin and team captain Michael.

The latter together with full-back Joey Holden were pivotal figures in the Ballyhale defence. The winners' tactical decision to withdraw their half forward line to a deep lying position proved pivotal on two counts.

It frustrated Ballygunner's short-pass game forcing them to deliver the ball long from their defence. At the other end it created huge gaps in front of goalkeeper O'Keeffe as the Waterford champions' full-back line had to move up the field to fill the gaps.

"In the beginning we struggled a little bit. You can talk tactics all day long but until you see them in practice that is when you really test yourself. We squeezed up on them a little bit, more in the second half and we knew from the stats we were winning more of the broken ball," said Shefflin.

The most damning statistic from a Ballygunner viewpoint was that they were outscored 1-12 to 0-3 in open play. Their over-reliance of Pauric Mahony - who scored 0-10 from placed balls and missed a couple late on - proved their Achilles' heel.

Manger Fergal Hartley said the outcome was hugely disappointing.

"That's the nature of hurling. We were happy at the break. But in a low-scoring game the goal was very much a killer blow. It opened up a gap we just couldn't bridge," he said.

The sides were level 0-8 each at the break, though Ballygunner didn't record their first score from play until the 26th minute.

The game's first significant turning point came eight minutes after the break when in a frantic goalmouth scramble, Richie Reid and Conor Phelan denied Conor Power and Tim O'Sullivan with a goal line clearance and a block respectively before the latter appeared to be upended but the referee waved on play.

"We felt we should have gotten a penalty out of it but there were penalty decisions that didn't go Ballyhale's way. So these things even themselves out, by and large," said Hartley.

Replays suggested that Colin Fennelly was fouled inside the area early in the second half by Barry Coughlin but the referee awarded a 21 metre free. Between them Fennelly and TJ Reid only scored 0-1 from play, though the latter set up a couple of other scores in the first half before playing a very deep role after the break.

"If I'm marked and I'm able to create space for the other forwards, I suppose I'm helping the team there," said Reid.

"I didn't score much but those days happen in sport. The next day who knows. But my role was to work for the team and the end result is we're in an All-Ireland final."

Once the goal went in Ballyhale never looked in any real danger, though a 58th-point from Brian O'Sullivan momentarily raised Ballygunner's hopes before two points in stoppage time sealed their fate.

Familiarity probably counted as well. Ballyhale have only lost once - in 2009 to Portumna - in nine semi-final appearances whereas this was only Ballygunner's second time to contest a penultimate tie.

Shefflin is still surprised, however, at how far they have advanced.

"When I took over the lads I was saying let's do well in Kilkenny this year (2018) and hopefully build for next year.

"So it has happened very quickly. It is a great feeling to be heading back to Croke Park for any club player. We have been privileged to be there before and we won't take this opportunity lightly either."

Since losing in their first final appearance in 1979, Ballyhale have reeled off six wins on the spin to top the All-Ireland honours' list, but Shefflin rates next month's opponents St Thomas' - who were champions in 2013 - as serious opponents. "We know it will be a big challenge." 

SCORERS - Ballyhale Shamrocks: E Cody 1-4; TJ Reid 0-4 (3f), R Mullen, A Mullen, E Reid 0-2 each; E Shefflin 0-1. Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 0-10 (9f, 1 65), Brian O'Sullivan 0-2, P Hogan 0-1.

Ballyhale shamrocks - D Mason; D Mullen, J Holden, B Butler; E Shefflin, M Fennelly, R Reid; R Corcoran, P Mullen, A Mullen, TJ Reid, B Cody; E Reid, C Fennelly, E Cody. Subs: C Phelan for Butler (14 inj); M Aylward for B Cody (ht); C Walsh for Phelan (54); J Cuddily for E Reid (56); G Bulter for Corcoran (60).

Ballygunner - S O'Keeffe; E Hayden, B Coughlin, I Kenny; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, H Barnes; B O'Keeffe, S O'Sullivan; P Hogan; Pauric Mahony, M Mahony; C Power, T O'Sullivan, Brian O'Sullivan. Subs: D O'Sullivan for Hayden ht(); Barry O'Sullivan for Tim O'Sullivan (47), JJ Hutchinson for O'Keeffe (56)

Ref - C Lyons (Cork)

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