Well walked Ballyhale Shamrocks turned Croke Park white and green yesterday as they staged their own St Patrick’s Day procession.
The South Kilkenny outfit simply walked away with their sixth All-Ireland club senior hurling title when they left error prone Kilmallock (Limerick) trailing in their wake in the final.
In what was a clash of the green and white shirt wearers - both clubs have the same colours - the Shamrocks put Kilkenny club hurling on the highest rung by adding the All-Ireland title to the junior club crown won by Bennettsbridge last month and the Leinster intermediate title won by Mullinavat before Christmas.
The Shamrocks were winners from a long way out as Kilmallock suffered a serious dose of the nerves as they sought their first title for club and county.
The losers ran up a shattering 10 wides when breeze assisted during the first half, and 14 in all. They also had a goal disallowed in the third minute when it was ruled a forward had encroached on the square.
It simply wasn’t to be the Shannonsiders day. The Shamrocks slowly but surely ran up a good score. They led by 1-7 to 0-4.
When Kilmallock failed to make an impressive early in the new half it quickly became clear that Shamrocks were going to add to their long list of successes, the last at national level in 2010.
“It is a sensational feeling to win,” insisted AIB man of the match, the Shamrocks full-back, Joey Holden, the Kilkenny captain this season.
“Once we left Kilkenny the All-Ireland club title was always our objective,” he revealed. “This has been a great journey for us. We were well ahead nearing the end, but you never take anything for granted. We kept pushing.”
Both sides were very cautious in the early stages, and the emphasis seemed to be on keeping the number of errors down rather than opening up the match and letting rip. The approach was to play the ball around and find a man with every delivery.
Kilmallock snatched the opening point through midfielder, Paudie O’Brien after 25 seconds, which was the only time they led. Within a minute the ageless Bob Aylward clipped a lovely ground ball over the bar from 35 metres.
Shamrocks weren’t exactly on the way, yet. In the third minute Jake Mulcahy sent in a high, slow dropping ball into the winners goal area. Goalie Richie Reid looked to have the ball covered, but it ended up in the net.
After speaking at length with his umpires, the referee disallowed the effort and awarded a free out.
Within minutes Shamrocks were in front. In a fast, sweeping move involving Patrick and T.J. Reid, roving front man Colin Fennelly was sent on his way towards goal. He was fouled. T.J. Reid pointed.
Eoin Reid added to that before Henry Shefflin, who won a Route I ball out of defence by Michael Fennelly, scored to up the divide to 0-4 to 0-1 at the end of the quarter.
Kilmallock dragged the arrears back to the minimum within minutes after Robbie Egan and Eoin Ryan (free) registered. They missed two chances in-a-row as they rushed their efforts in front of goal.
The losers had six wides chalked up as Shamrocks were beginning to get into a strong stride when their goal arrived. A massive Shamrocks puck-out from goalie, Richie Reid was contested by five players near the opposing ‘50’.
The ball broke forward and kindly for Colin Fennelly, who headed straight for the goal at the Hill 16 end. The All-Star let fly from about 20 metres, and he hung the ball up in the top right corner of the net.
Half-time: Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-7, Kilmallock 0-4.
Henry Shefflin’s 15th All-Ireland medal was on the way. He was full of running, and he almost capped another appearance in Croke Park with a goal. With time running out, T.J. Reid crossed from the right but the ball was knocked away from the 10 times senior All-Ireland medal winner with the goal at his mercy.
There was little in that opening period to inspire Kilmallock during the half-time team talk. Apart from their poor finishing, too often they left shooting efforts short and goalie Reid snapped the ball confidently from the sky, under pressure or not.
The winners were playing well rather than brilliantly. Joey Holden was excellent on the edge of the square; breaking fast to the ball and using possession well. He did so well his direct opponent was withdrawn after 24 minutes.
Alan Cuddihy and Conor Walsh were the ones flying on a day the inter-county men were good without being totally dominant. Still, the clever hurling of a fine finishing, T.J. Reid, the driving play of Michael Fennelly and the zip of Colin Fennelly - his shooting off his left was class - troubled Kilmallock.
Corner-forward Eoin Reid was another top notch performer, and his deadly shooting was an example to Kilmallock of how things should be done.
Shamrocks opened the second half with back to back points. Henry Shefflin claimed the first after the full-back appeared to cut out a delivery from T.J. Reid, but Shefflin pulled off a steal before finishing.
Sub Mark Aylward made it 1-9 to 0-4 after a crowded Shamrocks defence had blocked out a goal attempt by Eoin Ryan before the ball was walloped quickly down field.
Eoin Reid and Eoin Ryan (free) traded points before the game swiftly moved away from the losers. Between the 41st and 52nd minute the Shamrocks piled up the score to jump 1-17 to 0-6 clear.
The 17th point from T.J. Reid followed a run of five in-a-row, with T.J. Reid, Colin Fennelly, corner-back Alan Cuddihy, Colin Fennelly again and T.J. hitting the mark.
“You can’t beat winning on big days in Croke Park,” suggested Shamrocks captain, T.J. Reid.
It is hard to beat Shamrocks on such days, anyway. From six attempts in the All-Ireland club final they harvested five wins.
SCORERS: Ballyhale Shamrocks - Colin Fennelly (1-3); T.J. Reid (0-6, four frees); Eoin Reid (0-3); Henry Shefflin, Mark Aylward (0-2 each); Alan Cuddihy, Bob Aylward (0-1 each). Kilmallock - Eoin Ryan (0-3, frees); Paudie O’Brien, Robbie Egan, Graeme Mulcahy (0-1 each).
Shamrocks - Richie Reid, Keith Nolan, Joey Holden, Alan Cuddihy, Paul Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Aidan Cummins, Conor Walsh, Bob Aylward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid (capt), Patrick Reid, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Reid. Subs - Mark Aylward for P. Reid ht; Tom Coogan for K. Nolan 57th min; David Hoyne for C. Walsh (inj) 58th min.
Kilmallock - Barry Hennessy, Liam Hurley, Mark O’Loughlin, Aaron Costello, Liam Walsh, Philip O’Loughlin, Kevin O’Donnell, Bryan O’Sullivan, Paudie O’Brien, Jake Mulcahy, Gavin O’Mahony, Robbie Egan, Graeme Mulcahy (capt), Kieran Kenneally, Eoin Ryan. Subs - Paddy O’Loughlin for K. Kenneally 24th min; Robbie Hanley for R. Egan 44th min; Conor Barry for B. O’Sullivan 55th min.
Referee - James Owens (Wexford).