Monday 23 April 2018

Awesome Canning left in shade

Masterful Ballyhale make mockery of odds to foil Portumna's record bid

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

JOE Canning did more than one man -- let alone a 21-year-old -- might reasonably be expected to do for the honour and glory of his parish, but it still wasn't enough to keep the title in Portumna for a record-breaking third year.

Instead, the Tommy Moore Cup sided with Ballyhale's application for a place in history and has now settled into the welcoming embrace of the Shamrocks club for a fifth time.

And as Portumna manager Johnny Kelly graciously acknowledged afterwards, there were no questions and no disputes as to which was the superior force on a pleasant spring afternoon at Croke Park.

Ballyhale, still hurting from the memories of being hit for five goals by Portumna in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, made an early statement of intent that they were determined to show their outsiders' rating was totally unwarranted when James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick fired over a point after only 20 seconds.

It was the launch pad for a well-constructed Ballyhale performance in which their strike rate was evenly put together over the hour. It yielded 0-6 in the first quarter, a further 0-5 by half-time, 0-5 in the third quarter and 1-3 in the final 15 minutes.

In contrast, Portumna spent the first quarter blowing out dirty petrol and while their fuel-lines improved somewhat from there on, they were always in a severely disadvantaged position by comparison with their slick opponents.

It was ominous for Portumna when they were forced to send Canning on outfield patrol after 20 minutes, at which stage they were trailing by six points.

With the Ballyhale midfield and half-backs cutting off the supply to Canning, the star forward had to move out to play himself into the game and while he achieved that, it came at a cost as his goal-poaching skills were badly missed further in.

Meanwhile, Ballyhale kept the scoreboard ticking over and were full value for their 0-11 to 0-5 interval lead.

Portumna supporters would have been expecting an early second-half surge but once again it was Ballyhale who sprung from the starting blocks, with TJ Reid delicately arcing a sideline cut over the bar in the first minute after the break. It was his third point and to crown a great day for the Reid family, Eoin also scored 0-3 while Patrick landed one point.

That was embellished by 0-8 from Henry Shefflin and 1-1 from David Hoyne, whose 46th-minute goal ensured that Portumna's revival hopes were damaged beyond redemption.

Canning had manoeuvred the Galway champions to within four points of Ballyhale prior to Hoyne's goal, which arrived through a goalkeeping error. Ivan Canning had possession but his attempted hand-pass to a colleague dropped in front of Hoyne who whipped the ball to the net.

The goal had a major impact on a game that never quite reached the anticipated heights, as it gave Ballyhale a lead which was always going to sustain them to the finish while presenting Portumna with a challenge that was beyond them.

The Connacht men re-sited Joe Canning in front of the Ballyhale goal late on in the hope that he might pilfer a goal or two, and while the young attacker did his best to launch a rescue package, he was crowded out by an excellent defence where Alan Cuddihy, Aidan Cummins and captain Eamonn Walsh were outstanding.

The Ballyhale defence came in for severe flak after conceding 5-11 to Portumna last year and also had their critics during the Leinster championship, but they came good against Newtownshandrum in the All-Ireland semi-final and were even better yesterday.

"We knew we were better than some people seemed to think," said Walsh, wearing the contented smile of a man who knew exactly what his side had achieved against one of the really great teams of club hurling.

Unfortunately for Portumna, they never came close to reaching maximum output yesterday. The pace, power and precision which won them three of the previous four All-Ireland titles was -- with the exception of Joe Canning -- missing, leaving them vulnerable to Ballyhale's high-octane game.

Whereas Canning got little consistent support in attack, Shefflin had productive runners and finishers around him and with the Ballyhale defence backing each other up all the way, the overall package was sufficiently impressive to put them in a winning position quite early on.

They led by 0-7 to 0-1 after 16 minutes, a margin which put them tightly in the driving seat.

Portumna never came any closer than four points and while they will feel that the giveaway goal broke their momentum at a crucial stage, it's likely that Ballyhale would have won anyway.

There was something calm and controlled about most of what they did, not least when it came to preventing Canning getting close to eyeballing their goalkeeper.

Canning had an early chance only to have his shot deflected wide but, for some reason, a '65 was not awarded. Another indication, perhaps, that it wasn't going to be Portumna's day.

However, they could have no complaints in the overall sense as they never came close to replicating the fluency of previous final performances.

Then again, they weren't allowed to by a Ballyhale side who showed typical Kilkenny flair and confidence once their game began to flow.

Ultimately, it proved beyond Portumna's reach on a day when the folly of offering any Kilkenny team at 13/8 in an All-Ireland final was underlined. Don't expect it to happen again for a very long time.

Scorers -- Ballyhale: H Shefflin 0-8 (0-6f), D Hoyne 1-1, E Reid, TJ Reid (0-1 line ball) 0-3 each, J Fitzpatrick 0-2, P Reid, M Aylward 0-1 each. Portumna: J Canning 0-12 (0-6f, 0-1 '65), D Hayes 0-2, M Dolphin, P Smith, A Smith 0-1 each.

Ballyhale -- J Connolly; A Cuddihy, A Cummins, P Holden; P Shefflin, E Walsh, B Aylward; J Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly; C Fennelly, H Shefflin, TJ Reid; E Reid, P Reid, D Hoyne. Subs: J Holden for M Fennelly (47), M Aylward for P Reid (50).

Portumna -- I Canning; A O'Donnell, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith, E Lynch; N Hayes, K Hayes, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, M Dolphin. Sub: C Ryan for N Hayes (41)

REF -- C McAllister (Cork).

Irish Independent

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