Most people, bar the Dicksboro supporters, heading to Nowlan Park on Sunday for the Kilkenny senior hurling final would have made Ballyhale Shamrocks warm favourites to regain the title, writes Nickey Brennan.
This was a final in which one side was high on experience and the other had bundles of youthful exuberance and no little skill.
In the end experience won the day. It was far from the emphatic victory many had predicted, and for that the city side can take a lot of credit.
Perhaps the game might have taken on a different dimension had Henry Shefflin scored even one of his two first half penalties.
The lead up to both of those frees was typical of the Shamrocks, with the ball being delivered at pace among the players.
The Dicksboro defence was left with little option but to foul the in-rushing Shamrocks’ attacker.
Both penalties were well struck (if a little low) but brilliantly saved by the ’Boro trio on the line.
It did seem strange to see full-forward Shane Maher heading up the field to defend Henry Shefflin’s shots, but on both occasions his long journey was well-rewarded because he made two tremendous saves.
Keeping their goal intact gave the ’Boro men a real boost and before long they had clawed their way back into the game, leaving just two points between the sides at the interval.
Exerting their dominance
The opening 15 minutes of the second half was the period when the Shamrocks began to exert their dominance, and it did appear at one stage as if they would run out comfortable winners.
Like in the first half, Dicksboro worked their way back into the game, but some wayward shooting was to prove costly.
At least three excellent point-scoring opportunities were squandered at a crucial stage.
The Shamrocks were far more astute in front of goal, particularly through their best player Mark Aylward, but chances were hard-earned thanks to a brilliant Dicksboro defence.
The ’Boro’s decision to play Ollie Walsh in a midfield/defensive role was understandable, but it deprived the attack of his attacking skills in the second half.
Overall the game produced disappointing fare for the eight and a half thousand patrons.
Having to play the final a few weeks later than normal did not help with the players having to cram a lot of club games in after the All-Ireland final and replay.
A lot of games
In addition, the Nowlan Park surface has had to endure a lot of games in recent weeks and the sticky conditions contributed to some poor ball control from many players. This was far from a vintage performance from the Shamrocks, but they still retain the happy knack of knowing how to grind out a result.
They are worthy champions and will now carry the hopes of all Kilkenny supporters in Wexford Park on Sunday week against Oulart the Ballagh.
Of course Dicksboro will be disappointed at losing the final, but better days surely lie ahead. In recent times the worry was about relegation.
Despite last Sunday’s defeat the future should now be about winning county titles. They need to prove in 2013 that this year was not a once-off.