THE well walked, talented and hungry Ballyhale Shamrocks had to dig deep into the depths of their vast repertoire and they did so in great style when coming up with a winning effort against neighbours and fierce rivals, Carrickshock in this senior hurling championship quarter-final replay on Sunday, writes John Knox.
Rarely in living memory have two teams gone at it hammer and tongs on consecutive weekends at Nowlan Park or any other local venue and produced hurling of such quality and passion as was seen over the past two Sundays’.
One can remember vaguely a gripping trilogy between James Stephens and Shamrocks back in the ’seventies that thrilled and excited, but this spellbinding pair of contests was without doubt the best of the modern era.
Shamrocks only managed, or rather were only allowed, to seal the deal when Eoin Reid and Mark Aylward swooped for points in the 58th and 59th minutes.
The drama wasn’t complete however. Carrickshock sub Brian Donovan did well to dig out possession before firing in a late shot at goal that missed the target, and his colleague John Power blasted a whistling 20-metre free at the posts before the ball was turned out for a 65, which came to nothing.
“It is difficult to take defeat when you play well,” suggested disappointed Carrickshock manager, Brendan Fennelly afterwards. “We played very well again. Shamrocks made us pay a price for a couple of small mistakes.
“They didn’t make the couple of elementary mistakes we did. A few turn overs led to them scoring vital points. That is what the Shamrocks do to you. They punish errors. They are a class act.
“They have learned from winning. They always believe. Our players have come on in leaps and bounds since last year.
“While we are disappointed, there is a lot to be satisfied with. The panel was stronger this year. Over the two games we were consistent, and we played to a high level.
“We won’t feel sorry for ourselves. We know the level to which we have to get if we are to be successful, and we must work to reach that level.”
He said Carrickshock have a very honest bunch of players. In times past they might not have see things through in matches, but in these two games they saw the job through right to the end.
“Okay, we came up short against one of the best, if not the best team in the country, but we will learn from the experience,” Mr Fennelly assured.
The Shamrocks most telling gift is perhaps their gift of an array of talent.
During the first half Henry Shefflin, free roving, playing everywhere and yet nowhere, was wonderful. He scored 1-5, the points from frees; the goal mined from the instinct of knowing how and when to be in the right place at the right time.
His deadly sidekick and tormentor of the opposition was T.J. Reid, scorer of four points during the half. Their scoring efforts were huge as Carrickshock were left 0-9 to 1-10 behind at the break.
And afterwards when that pair slipped out of the vanguard, there were others who thundered through, others who led the charge. The big drivers then were midfield duo, Michael Fennelly and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, who were wonderful during the closing half, along with Colin Fennelly, Conor Walsh, Joseph Holden and Eoin Reid.
Carrickshock had their big performers too, their big hearted contributors like Richie Power, scorer of 11 points, John Dalton, who was splendid when the contest was at it toughest, most demanding during the closing half, likewise Michael Rice, David Franks and a more involved – relative to last week – John Tennyson but still they couldn’t break Shamrocks.
Now the favourites
The year the Shamrocks spent off the pedestal of champions has reinvigorated them, recharged the spirits, the longing. Next weekend they will face champions, O’Loughlin Gaels in the semi-finals, and they will do so as favourites.
It is hard to back against a team with such quality, and a hunger to match.
The big score during the opening half was Shefflin’s goal. It arrived in the 25th minute after the scores had been level twice and the divide had never risen above three points.
Promising youngsters Conor Walsh put in a strong drive up the left at the country end before getting in a whistling drive at goal. The ’keeper, Patrick Farrell did well to block the shot.
Lurking on the edge of the square waiting for the breaking ball was Shefflin. The sliotar was controlled quickly on the stick and flicked home (1-8 to 0-7).
The four points subsequently were shared equally between T.J. Reid (2) and Michael Rice and John Tennyson.
Half-time: Shamrocks 1-10, Carrickshock 0-9.
As the awful weather from the weekend cleared and the day opening up brightly, the hurling dazzled in its brightness too. Early in the new half Richie Power, following a foul on his brother, Jamie, and Shefflin, after a foul on Conor Walsh, swopped points.
Carrickshock drove on. A smashing move pieced together by John Tennyson and Michael Rice ended with John Power shooting a lovely point in the 34th minute (1-11 to 0-11). They turned the screws tighter when Richie Power landed a top class point from a free near midfield, virtually on the left sideline.
Game on again
The teams traded points during the following minutes before Shamrocks bagged their second goal. This time a grounded Eoin Reid refused to yield.
He provided the pass which created the opening for Conor Walsh to get a run at goal. From a bad angle on the left, no more than 10 metres from goal, Walsh squeezed the ball into the corner of the net (2-12 to 0-13).
The separating margin alternated between three and six points before a converted 54th minute free from Richie Power began to pare it back, 0-17 to 2-16. A minute further on John Power got to a ball delivered into the danger area by Rice, and from 12 metres on the right he almost burst the net with a screaming drive off his left.
It was game on big time. Young Donovan arrived on the scene and was immediately involved, but he missed the target after digging out good possession.
Moments later Eoin Reid pointed, with an assist from Colin Fennelly. Mark Aylward sealed the deal with a strike from 60 metres, although Carrickshock had two late attempts to add to their tally.
Carrickshock leave the stage for another season, but Shamrocks move on. To both we say thanks. You enriched our lives these two hurling days.
Shamrocks – Richard Reid, Paul Shefflin, Aidan Cummins, Ger Fennelly, Joseph Holden, Eamon Walsh, Bob Aylward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Conor Walsh, Eoin Reid, David Hoyne. Sub – Mark Aylward for Hoyne.
Carrickshock – Patrick Farrell, Niall Tennyson, John Dalton, Luke Gaule, Darren O’Dwyer, David Franks, John Murphy, Jamie Power, Shane Power, Michael Rice, Richie Power, John Power, Michael Rohan, Mark O’Dwyer, John Tennyson. Subs – William Hoyne for S. Power; John Cahill for N. Tennyson; Andrew Power for M. Rohan; B. Donovan for M. O’Dwyer.
Referee – Maurice Flynn (Mooncoin).
PS – Hats off to Timmy Grogan and Michael O’Neill, the dedicated grounds men at Nowlan Park who had the pitch in tip top conditions for what was an awful weekend. The ’Park, which was verti-ploughed two weeks ago, was excellent for the staging of five matches over 24 hours.
Someone puts in the work to have the playing surface so good. Well done boys!
The latest addition to facilities at the ’Park are the electronic scoreboards, one at each end of the grounds, which are sponsored by Lahart’s Garage, Waterford Road and Skoda. The timing mechanisms were tested recently and were fully operational from Saturday.
They list the names of the teams, scores and count out the minutes and seconds, which is a great help for fans.