Friday 23 August 2019

Shefflin's joy as Ballyhale reach decider

Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-15 Ballygunner 0-13

Ballyhale’s Colin Fennelly is tackled by Ballygunner’s Harley Barnes in Semple Stadium yesterday. Photo: Matt Browne
Ballyhale’s Colin Fennelly is tackled by Ballygunner’s Harley Barnes in Semple Stadium yesterday. Photo: Matt Browne

Seán McGoldrick

A new generation of hurlers from Ballyhale Shamrocks came of age in Thurles yesterday as the famed Kilkenny club reached their eighth All-Ireland club hurling final, and their first since 2015.

Henry Shefflin was a key player on that team four years ago, but now he's at the helm and so far in his debut season as a manager he hasn't put a foot wrong.

Adrian Mullen of Ballyhale Shamrocks in action against Barry Coughlin of Ballygunner. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Adrian Mullen of Ballyhale Shamrocks in action against Barry Coughlin of Ballygunner. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"I'm absolutely thrilled," acknowledged Shefflin, who was proud of how his team coped with the specific challenge posed by Waterford kingpins Ballygunner.

"We knew it was going to very tight. We probably hadn't played against a team like Ballygunner before. Patience was a word we used all week. We knew scores were going to be tight to come by.

"We struggled a little bit at the beginning with their short passing. Once we pushed up on them a bit - which we did more of in the second half - they had to go long and we were winning more of those breaking balls."

Nineteen-year-old Eoin Cody - who will be in action for St Kieran's College in the Leinster semi-final on Wednesday - emerged as the scoring hero for Ballyhale, hitting 1-4 from play.

Conor Walsh, left, and Adrian Mullen of Ballyhale Shamrocks celebrate. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Conor Walsh, left, and Adrian Mullen of Ballyhale Shamrocks celebrate. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

And it was his 44th-minute goal which effectively sealed Ballygunner's fate. A long clearance from another impressive youngster, Patrick Mullen, instigated the move but Cody still had a lot of work to do.

He out-fielded his marker, Harley Barnes, and then held off the challenge of Wayne Hutchinson, which gave him a clear path toward goal and he made no mistake from close range.

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The score put Ballyhale three points clear and they outscored the Waterford champions 0-5 to 0-3 during the remainder of the contest to secure a St Patrick's Day final date against St Thomas'. Ominously for the Galway side, since losing in their first decider in 1979, Ballyhale Shamrocks have reeled off six final victories on the spin.

Ballygunner are an enigma when it comes to this series. This was only their second ever appearance at this stage of the competition, even though they have 17 Waterford titles, including six since 2011.

They were over-reliant on the free-taking of Pauric Mahony to keep the scoreboard ticking over. He hit 0-10 from placed balls but only two other players, Peter Hogan and Brian O'Sullivan, managed to get on the scoreboard. They only managed 0-3 from play whereas six Ballyhale players hit 1-12 from play between them.

From a Ballyhale perspective, the victory was all the more satisfying as neither TJ Reid nor Colin Fennelly set the game alight. The latter was held scoreless, though he should have been awarded a penalty early in the second half after he was fouled inside the square by Barry Coughlin - the referee awarded a 20-metre free instead.

TJ Reid only scored one point from play - he also converted three frees - but he sacrificed his natural attacking instincts, particularly in the second half, as he played a deep role. The team's other veteran, Michael Fennelly, was a key figure operating as their sweeper.

Ballygunner will point to an incident as a pivotal moment. A goalmouth scramble saw Richie Reid clear the sliotar off the muddy goalline after a shot from Conor Power. Substitute Conor Phelan then blocked a shot from Tim O'Sullivan, who appeared to be upended in the next play but the referee waved play on and their chance of reaching the decider had disappeared.

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