Ballyhale Shamrocks rounded off a terrific year of achievement for Kilkenny hurling when they captured the Leinster club senior title in daring fashion in Portlaois this afternoon.
The South Kilkenny outfit battled through 20 minutes of extra time before breaking powerful opponents, Kilcormac Killoughey (Offaly) to win their eight Leinster title by 0-21 to 1-14.
The losers will, no doubt, have thoughts about what might have been and missed chances when they were on top during the middle stages of the second half, but when Shamrocks got to extra time they simply had more in the tank and they out-scored their opponents by 0-7 to 0-3.
“The game was every bit as tough as we thought it might be,” insisted James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, one of the stars for the winners. “We just had to dig and dig and work our socks off for victory.”
The winners now face the Connacht champions in the All-Ireland semi-final in the New Year.
The losers, a physically big and mobile outfit, opened full of business. Early points from Cillian Kiely and James Gorman helped them find their feet. Shamrocks, who enjoyed what benefit the largely cross field breeze afforded, couldn’t open up the game but with the help of five scores from T.J. Reid they led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the break.
The Noresiders were hit for a goal by full-forward, Dan Currams in the 34th minute which pushed the KK’s, as their fans called them, ahead by 1-6 to 0-8. A brace of frees from Reid reversed the roles, but as Shamrocks lost their way for a while, the midlanders failed to make them pay and they missed three good chances, two frees, during one bad six minute spell.
Three times the scores were level before Henry Shefflin produced a magical score from the right sideline in the 56th minutes to edge the winners in front, 0-14 to 1-10. However, with no more than seconds remaining Ciaran Slevin produced a wonderful equaliser from a 60 metre free to force the match into extra time.
Shamrocks were much more with it and on top of their game in extra time. Scores from Reid (free), Mark Aylward, Fitzpatrick and Henry Shefflin left them leaders by 0-18 to 1-12 at the break in extra time. Shefflin, Fitzpatrick and Reid (free) rounded off the scoring as Shamrocks took their first provincial title since 2009.
Full-back Joey Holden was the star in an excellent Shamrocks defence, while Paul Shefflin, Keith Nolan and Michael Fennelly also hit the high spots. T.J. Reid was the main man up front, but Colin Fennelly’s direct running and Fitzpatrick’s great work all over the field also hurt the opposition, as did the roving Henry Shefflin, when he hit full stride in the extra time.
Victory means the three Leinster club titles ended up in Kilkenny - Shamrocks (senior), Mullinavat (intermediate) and Bennettsbridge (junior) on top of the two All-Irelands wins, senior and minor.
SCORERS: Ballyhale Shamrocks - T.J. Reid (0-10); Henry Shefflin (0-4); James ‘Cha Fitzpatrick, Mark Aylward (0-2 each); Conor Walsh, Eoin Reid, Ronan Corcoran (0-1 each). Kilcormac Killoughey - Ciaran Slevin (0-7); Dan Currams (1-1); Cillian Kiely (0-2, one free); James Gorman (0-2); Damien Kilmartin, Conor Mahon (0-1 each).