Ballyhale pay no penalty for Henry misses
KILKENNY SHC FINAL
IF Dicksboro had been told in advance that they wouldn't concede a goal and that Henry Shefflin would miss two penalties and fail to score from open play, they would probably have thought that their 19-year wait for the title was about to end.
Those were certainly favourable pointers but they needed more than that to outgun Ballyhale Shamrocks, a powerful force of hurling nature who can construct wins in a variety of ways.
This time, it was all about hard work and dogged persistence as they wore down a rapidly emerging Dicksboro side which featured two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old goalkeeper on a side with an average age of less than 22 years.
One of the teenagers, Kevin Kenny, had to retire after taking a heavy knock in the first half, but the other two went on to make impressive contributions as the underdogs delivered a feisty attempt to disrupt the favourites.
Goalkeeper Aaron Duggan made a few good saves and was sound in all other facets too, while wing-back Robbie Fitzpatrick (17) grew with the demands of the day and ended up marking no less a personage than Shefflin.
The youngster did well, too, hurtling into the daunting challenge as Dicksboro tried to mine the vital goal they needed to give themselves a real chance.
It almost came in the 55th minute when sub Eddie O'Donoghue hit the post with a rasping shot at a time when a goal would have cut the deficit to two points. Dicksboro pared it back to three points as the game ticked into stoppage-time, but Mark Aylward landed his third point to guarantee a Ballyhale success.
It was their fifth county title win in seven years, their 14th overall, and sets them up for a Leinster semi-final clash with Wexford champions Oulart-The Ballagh on Sunday week.
It was a thoroughly deserved success, albeit one that was achieved without playing to the peak of their powers.
They led from the first minute when Eoin Reid fired over a point and had four on the board before Dicksboro opened their account in the 11th minute with a Martin Gaffney free.
He posted eight of their points -- all from frees -- while Shefflin countered with five points from placed balls. Ballyhale had a broader range of scorers, which ultimately proved decisive.
Dicksboro's Ollie Walsh, Shane Maher and Paul O'Flynn brought their own particular brand of menace to bear on the opposition defence but the supply was erratic, where Ballyhale's snipers were enjoying a better delivery service for long stretches.
Indeed, Ballyhale might well have been out of sight in the first half. Good saves from Duggan and last-ditch blocking work by the full-back line kept Dicksboro's goal intact on a few occasions in the first quarter, but they looked to be headed for big trouble when Shefflin was hauled down in the square in the 21st minute.
He took the penalty himself but his shot was blocked before Colin Fennelly pointed from the ensuing scramble.
Seven minutes later, Shefflin won another penalty and once again his effort was blocked by Dicksboro full-forward Shane Maher, a man with plenty of experience as a goalkeeper.
That unusual turn of events left many in the crowd of 8,652 wondering when last the great man had failed to score from successive penalties.
The double let-off provided Dicksboro with a double boost, especially when they cut the deficit to two points (0-9 to 0-7) just before half-time.
"I missed one (penalty) in the semi-final too," said Shefflin, who admitted that he was concerned in the second half that the misses might prove very costly.
"I thought I hit the first one well -- it was a good save. I hit the second one fairly well too, probably not as good as the first one, but it was saved too.
"I've always said it's a hard thing (penalty) to score, especially at this time of year when the ball doesn't travel as fast," he said.
His Ballyhale colleagues were surprised by the zero return from two penalties from the stick of one of the greatest finishers in hurling history.
"Doesn't happen too often," grinned Fennelly.
Ballyhale outscored their rivals by 0-5 to 0-1 in the third quarter to lead by six points, at which stage it was looking increasingly clear that Dicksboro would need a goal to give themselves a real chance of winning.
They worked very hard to launch a rescue package but were let down by inaccurate shooting and passing. They won the final quarter by 0-4 to 0-2 but Ballyhale looked to have that little extra in hand as they steered a safe course to victory.
"I always felt we were that bit ahead, even if some of us weren't going all that great. To be fair to Dicksboro, they hung in well. They're young and fit and really went for everything.
"It's a sweet win for us -- if we'd lost I'd be fairly depressed for the winter," said Shefflin.
Instead, the focus turns to the Leinster championship, a prize Ballyhale have previously landed on seven occasions.
"We want to drive on now. We were 100pc focused for today and we needed to be. We'll enjoy this and then turn our attentions to Leinster," said Fennelly.
As for Dicksboro, they will be disappointed in the short term but with such a young panel, backed up by a torrent of talent at underage level, their big day can't be far away.
Scorers -- Ballyhale: H Shefflin 0-5 (5f), M Aylward 0-3, E Reid, C Fennelly 0-2 each, R Aylward (f), J Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly, C Walsh 0-1 each. Dicksboro: M Gaffney 0-8 (8f), Oisin Walsh, Ollie Walsh, E O'Donoghue, P O'Flynn 0-1 each.
Ballyhale -- R Reid; P Shefflin, A Cummins, A Cuddihy; M Dermody, J Holden, R Alyward; E Walsh, M Fennelly; J Fitzpatrick, H Shefflin, M Aylward; C Walsh, C Fennelly, E Reid. Subs: P Reid for Walsh (46), D Hoyne for Reid (58).
Dicksboro -- A Duggan; K Cuddihy, D Kenny, E Malone; M Fagan, D Glynn, R Fitzpatrick; C Buckley, J Fagan; M Gaffney, Oisin Walsh, Ollie Walsh; K Kenny, S Maher, P O'Flynn. Subs: E O'Donoghue for Kenny (25), C Starr for J Fagan (39).
Ref -- G Quilty (Slieverue)