They may have had a team that was patched up like an old, well worn bicycle tube but Ballyhale Shamrocks retain the art of survival.
And it was the instinct to survive, plus a good spattering of hurling it must be said, that helped Ballyhale Shamrocks cope with and eventually surmount the stirring challenge of a young and eager O’Loughlin Gaels in this senior championship quarter-final in Nowlan Park on Sunday.
Shamrocks were without former hurler of the year, Michael Fennelly. They continue to be without the bundle of talent that is Eamon Walsh. They started without big hearted veteran Aidan Cummins. The latter came on, but the other pair will hardly feature during the rest of the campaign.
Understandably, the Shamrocks showed for the loss of such an array of talent. But yet they survived to make the last four, turning a one time second half deficit of four point into a four point win. Nice going!
Things looked a little ropey for the champions when O’Loughlin’s crept into that 1-12 to 1-8 lead in the 36th minute. Then a combined effort between the sideline and the players - astute switches and players taking up the challenge in front of them - helped turned the tide.
Henry Shefflin, who got little change out of a disciplined and tenacious Anthony Forristal at full-back when in opposition during most of the first half, clipped over a free after he was fouled to steady the champions. A foul on Colin Fennelly after receiving a posted ball from T.J. Reid left Shefflin with the simple task of popping over anohter minor.
And on 40 minutes Shefflin chose his best individual moment of the afternoon, shooting over his left shoulder almost with his back to the town end goal, to slice the divide to the minimum. That wonderful score, the take of a rich, rich talent, had an element of inspiration about it.
It may have taken Shamrocks a good while and a lot of effort before they got back level, but the wiping of the deficit, and so quckly - in four minutes - was crucial to their survival.
However, it must be admitted that on the way back the champions enjoyed a bit of luck. After Shefflin’s last point, the bundle of mischief that was Conor Bergin fielded yet another high ball but his angled drive from the right flew across the face of the goal and wide. Martin Comerford gained a measure of compensation when he pointed within a minute (1-13 to 1-11).
And the next score might have been an O’Loughlin’s goal too. This time Danny Loughnane sent over a low cross cross from the right, but the inrushing Bergin appeared to lift the ball over the bar from the edge of the square when trying to side-foot it into the net.
Shamrocks, who started with T.J. Reid at centre-back but now had him in a more advanced role, simply kept rolling along, doing the simple things well. T.J. rifled over a point. Then Eoin Reid did the same. A foul on the ever more involved Colin Fennelly left Shefflin with the opportunity to level, which he did at 1-14 each in the 47th minute.
Twice subsequently the scores were level, and the next vital break was prompted by Colin Fennelly, when it came to his turn to enjoy a purple patch. He made the important plays. In the first he popped over a point after taking a tap pass from Bob Aylward. In the next one within two minute he charged up the field, bouncing the ball Pat Delaney-like as he galloped along, before finishing with a point.
Shamrocks were suddenly 1-18 to 1-16 in front. In the next play Fennelly provided the pass from the right wing for Henry Shefflin to score. There were six minutes remaining. Shamrocks were never going to lose from there.
O’Loughlin’s, who obviously benefitted from two tough championship matches in recent weeks, took a bold approach from the off. They blasted into the opposition. They were leading when Henry Shefflin made a goal for Colin Fennelly in the eight minute to turn things around, Shamrocks 1-1, O’Loughlin’s 0-2.
The losers snatched a goal in the 12th minute, Mark Bergin claiming it from a 20 metre free in front of goal after Martin Comerford had been fouled (1-3 to 0-3). Comerford was fouled after fielding a high drive from Bergin. Indeed, the champs looked vulnerable to the high ball, with Comerford making two spectacular catched during this half and the smaller but equally troublesome Conor Bergin doing it three times.
While O’Loughlin’s got in front, they were called back at 1-5 each in the 23rd minute. From there to the rest they out-shone the opposition slightly, hitting halfway 1-8 to 1-7 in front.
The champs levelled within 30 seconds of the restart before Mark Bergin at the double - one a great score from the left wing - Martin Comerford and Jack Nolan, a score made by Comerford, all sent the white flying to take the St John’s Park crew into a 1-12 to 1-8 lead.
The champions had the appetite for the challenge, and they roared back with Shefflin, T.J Reid, Colin Fennelly, Bob Aylward et all turning a game that could easily have gone against them.
On this day Brian Hogan and Anthony Forristal were powerful in the heart of the losers defence. Young Jack Nolan and Conor Bergin were terrific too, as was Martin Comerford. It was a season of progress for the club.
Scorers: Ballyhale Shamrocks - Henry Shefflin (0-8, five frees); Colin Fennelly (1-2); David Hoyne, Mark Aylward, Eoin Reid, T.J. Reid (0-2 each); James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Ronan Corcoran, Richard Reid (0-1 each). O’Loughlin Gaels - Mark Bergin (1-8, 1-7 frees); Jack Nolan, Martin Comerford, Conor Bergin (0-2 each); Paddy Butler, Alan Geoghegan, Niall McEvoy (0-1 each).
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Patrick Reid, Paul Shefflin, Michael Dermody, Alan Cuddihy, Joseph Holden, T.J. Reid, Robert Aylward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Richard Reid, Mark Aylward, Henry Shefflin, David Hoyne, Eoin Reid, Colin Fennelly, Ronan Corcoran. Subs - Aidan Cummins for R. Corcoran; Tom Coogan for P. Shefflin; Conor Walsh for ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick.
O’Loughlin Gaels - Stephen Murphy, Eoghan Grant, Anthony Forristal, Eddie Kearns, Jason Quan, Brian Hogan, Niall Bergin, Mark Bergin, Paddy Butler, Mark Kelly, Niall McEvoy, Alan Geoghegan, Conor Bergin, Jack Nolan, Martin Comerford. Sub - Danny Loughnane for Geoghegan.
Referee - Eamon Mansfield (Cloneen).