BALLYHALE Shamrocks gave us a glimpse, albeit a brief one, of the potentially devastating hurling power they can generate at their peak when they knocked Kilkenny and Leinster champions, O’Loughlin Gaels from their perch in this senior championship semi-final.
During the 11 minutes after the turn the challengers turned a five point interval advantage into a match winning lead of 12 thanks to goals, deadly efforts by the way, from county stars, Colin Fennelly and Henry Shefflin.
The sheer power in Shamrocks hurling during that period was almost frightening, because all sections of their team were motoring smoothly, efficiently and with a real cutting edge.
Subsequently O’Loughlin’s kept the contest alive when they shot a hat-trick of goals through sub Danny Loughnane (2) and Martin Comerford, but once the divide exploded to 2-13 to 0-7 in the 41st minute this contest at Nowlan Park on Sunday was over.
An incidental, like the gap at the finish, was the main item to be sorted afterwards. The last time Shamrocks were in the final was 2009.
Shamrocks have been improving, improving, improving over the past three testing weeks during which they have been involved in serious matches against Carrickshock (2) and O’Loughlin’s. While the losers here deserve great credit for cutting the gap to one big score at the finish, nobody should get carried away and think there was every going to be but one winner once Shamrocks let rip and got so far ahead after the break.
They charged into the second half with a goal, a score born out of sheer determination and skill, from Colin Fennelly, who twice looked like losing the sliotar before he rifled a powerful shot into the roof of the net at the city end. His singled-minded attitude once he won possession on the ‘40’ carried him past four defenders who nearly knocked him off the ball before he produced a sensational finish.
Fast forward to the 41st minute and Shefflin’s goal, and again there was a touch of genius about this effort. Fair enough, the O’Loughlin’s defence was guilty of an error when there was a failure to cut out a cross field drive from the right by David Hoyne.
The ball trickled from a defender’s grasp to Shefflin about 30 metres from goal. Shefflin danced round a would-be tackler before charging through to shoot past helpless ’keeper, Stephen Murphy from 18 metres.
Those were two magnificent moments from a bright afternoon decorated gaily by hurling beauty from Shamrocks. Shefflin was terrific. That Colin Fennelly moment was very special.
Terrific too were Michael Fennelly and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, who produced awesome dexterity and drive to dominate midfield. It was the same with forward charging wing-backs, Joseph Holden, perhaps the brightest prospect from this championship, and Bob Aylward.
That sextet may have earned five star ratings, but the second level of high end performers that included Aidan Cummins, Eamon Walsh, Ger Fennelly and T.J. Reid helped make Shamrocks look a nigh unbeatable side. We use the word ‘nigh’ knowing that any team can be beaten at any time, but the final on Sunday week against James Stephens looks Shamrocks to lose.
More to offer
Not every day will be like Sunday, when Shamrocks registered just one wide during the second half. That didn’t arrive until the 60th minute, from Shefflin would you believe.
But even when the O’Loughlin’s charge was at its best in the latter stages, the Southerners looked to have a bit more to offer as far as I was concerned. Now Shamrocks have a chance of completing the league/championship double over ’Stephens.
The winners opened backed by the wind blowing towards the country end. They were slow enough into their stride. The scores were level at 0-2 each after seven minutes.
T.J. Reid took an aimed delivery from Joseph Holden moments later before shooting Shamrocks into a lead they were never to lose. Within a minute Mark Bergin missed a handy enough free for O’Loughlin’s following a foul on Martin Comerford.
That was one of four bad wides – they had six against their opponents four - the losers posted before the rest. Such errors were to prove costly in the end.
The Shamrocks, who owned midfield even if the opposition did withdraw a man from up front to flood the area, drove on into an interval lead of 0-10 to 0-5. Shefflin put his name on seven scores, five from frees.
The explosive start to the new half was outlined above. Four scores were shared equally after that before Shefflin exploded another bomb on the O’Loughlin’s cause by shooting a goal (2-13 to 0-7).
Within a minute the St John’s Park crew hit back for a lovely goal from Danny Loughnane from close range on the right. Was it the start of a comeback? Not really!
Shamrocks hit back for points from Shefflin (free), Colin Fennelly, when the ball was knocked away from a defender who had the advantage, and Mark Aylward to keep the divide big (2-16 to 1-7) turning into the closing quarter.
O’Loughlin’s won the quarter by scoring 2-5 against 0-2. That was a fair eclipse of the opposition by the champions. The third goal, a flicked effort by Martin Comerford when Mark Bergin dropped a long range free on to the edge of the square, arrived in the 62nd minute.
Keep that in mind when reflecting on the finishing score line. It was important to the overall story of the match.
It was a brave last stand by O’Loughlin’s, who had a defiant hero in Brian Hogan, a player whose performances appear to grow stronger and stronger, while Maurice Nolan, Eddie and Andy Kearns never yielded without one heck of a struggle.
Ballyhale Shamrocks – Richard Reid, Paul Shefflin, Aidan Cummins, Ger Aylward, Joseph Holden, Eamon Walsh, Bob Aylward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly (capt), Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, David Hoyne, Eoin Reid, Conor Walsh. Subs – Mark Aylward for C. Walsh 39th min; Alan Cuddihy for P. Shefflin 50th min; Patrick Reid for D. Hoyne 59th min.
O’Loughlin Gaels – Stephen Murphy, Brian Kelly, Andy Kearns, Eddie Kearns, Alan O’Brien, Brian Hogan, Niall Bergin, Peter Dowling, Maurice Nolan, Alan Geoghegan, Martin Comerford (capt), Niall McEvoy, Mark Kelly, Mark Bergin, Conor Bergin. Subs – Danny Loughnane for C. Bergin ht; Brian Dowling for P. Dowling 46th min.
Referee – Denis O’Sullivan (John Lockes).