It was as if the Gods and fate conspired against Ballyhale Shamrocks. Injuries and illness robbed them of three of their first line attackers in the end, and then the Wexford Park ‘element’ and the backing of a terrifically enthusiastic home following had to be worth at least the dividing point at the finish. Oulart won by 1-11 to 1-10, writes John Knox.
Hurling in December shouldn’t be, we are often told. But on a day left behind by spring, Wexford Park glistened in the winter sunshine and ultimately rocked to the fervent roar of the fans when Oulart-the-Ballagh (Wexford) sent Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks crashing out of the Leinster club senior hurling championship on Saturday.
“Winning took a mighty, mighty effort,” insisted one of Oulart’s finest, Darren Nolan afterwards. “We had to strain every muscle and limb to win.
“But we have won nothing yet. It is no use beating a great team like Shamrocks unless we win the Leinster championship.”
His brother, European gold medallist and Olympian, Adam Nolan agreed: “That was as brave a hurling show as I have ever seen. It took real bottle to win that match.”
Strong finishing wing-back, Eoin Moore fired over the dividing point in the 62nd minute from all of 70 metres to earn Oulart a third consecutive shot at the title. They play Kilcormac Killoughey (Offaly) in the final in Nowlan Park on Sunday (2pm).
Losing was bad enough for Shamrocks. Adding weight to the disappointment for club and county was the fact that Henry Shefflin, so, so dogged by injuries in recent years, picked up another one and had to leave the field after 22 minutes.
He damaged an ankle. X-rays showed up no bone damaged. Ligaments have been strained. The Shamrocks lost T.J. Reid after the All-Ireland final with a broken knee cap. Young attacker Conor Walsh was sick and was only allowed out of hospital on Saturday morning, so was unable to play any part in the game.
Gave their all
“They gave it their all,” insisted Shamrocks manager, Tommy Shefflin. “Henry going off was a big loss, and with T.J. (Reid) and Conor Walsh also missing from the attack we were up against it. Missing three forwards is a huge loss.
“We are disappointed. We asked the boys to put it all on the line in the second half and they did. In fairness to Oulart they were flying, and the crowd was very passionate behind them.
“Standing on the sideline listening to them would make the hair stand on the back of your neck. We know Wexford people are passionate about hurling. That passion shone through today. We wish Oulart the best of luck in the final.”
As with all close matches like this, Shamrocks could point to instances and wonder. They led by 1-9 to 1-6 at half-time. Easily they might have been two goals better off.
In the 16th minute David Hoyne was unlucky when a gap opened in front of the town end goal, but in attempting a quick ground stroke he hit too much sod. Chance lost!
In the 26th minute Michael Fennelly thundered up the field on a fantastic 30-metre charge before lashing the ball into the top left corner of the net from about 22 metres. It was an exceptional piece of play.
The referee ruled he had over carried. A harsh, very, very close call! It wasn’t the last one that might have irked Shamrocks.
In the second half Shamrocks scored just one point, but they missed three possible scores from frees. As well, in the 57th minute Eoin Reid had the ball in the Oulart net at a time the scores were level, but the referee awarded a free out. Apparently the goalie, who has fumbled the ball, had been fouled.
Frees were difficult
“The frees were from difficult positions, so they either go over or they don’t,” added Mr Shefflin. “I am proud of the players. A small thing could have changed the result.”
The Shamrocks backs, all of them, including goalie Richard Reid, were wonderful. The spirit was epitomised by part of the next generation, Joseph Holden, the centre-back. He has grown up fast. He grew here before our eyes, and was mighty during the storm faced by the over-worked defence in the closing half.
“The backs were brilliant,” was the simply, all embracing summary from Mr Shefflin.
Midfielders Michael Fennelly and Eamon Walsh earned the same rating.
Oulart gave them a few frights – Nicky Kirwan was through on goal in the 39th minute but lost control of the ball; Kirwan threatened again in the 48th minute but Alan Cuddihy took the ball off the line before moments later a covering Michael Fennelly stole the ball off a threatening Conor O’Leary.
It was all action, hell for leather stuff.
Shamrocks looked like running away with the game when points from a flying James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick (2) and Eoin Reid, on top of a super goal from Colin Fennelly took them 1-3 to no score clear after no more than five minutes. Oulart didn’t panic. They kept driving, and with the emphasis on hurling, hurling, hurling the game evolved into a terrific, high skill contest.
The next four points fell to the winners per a trouble causing Rory Jacob (2) at top of the right, Conor O’Leary and the hard running David Redmond.
Still, as the 21st and 25th minutes were passed they were drifting, when 0-4 to 1-7 and then 0-5 to 1-8 down. The Michael Fennelly disallowed goal followed here, with wonderful input from Patrick Reid and Eamon Walsh.
When Eoin Reid lofted over a point in the 28th minute to leave it 1-9 to 0-5, Shamrocks were looking good, really good actually. Henry had already departed.
Oulart summoned up a big finish which bagged a goal for Garrett Sinnott, after getting in behind the opposing full-back line and a point from David Redmond.
Those deposits cut the Oulart deficit to 1-6 to 1-9 at the break. James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick had been wonderful for Shamrocks, contributing 0-5 in all, four from open play.
The second half scoring went 0-5 to 0-1 in favour of the home side. The losers point came from ‘Cha’ in the 39th minute (1-10 to 1-8).
Oulart caught up in the 49th minute when Nicky Kirwan pointed a 65 (1-10 each). The way was open for Moore to become the late, late scoring hero.
Against a lesser defence, Oulart would have plundered more, much more during the closing half. With all the tallies done, Shamrocks were shy by a point.
The ‘Wexford Park factor’ was important at the finish. The noise and support from the stand and terraces inspired Oulart, who had many a hero, including Darren Stamp, David Redmond, Eoin Moore, Darren Nolan, Rory Jacob and Keith Rossiter.
Scorers: Oulart-the-Ballagh – Garrett Sinnott (1-0); Rory Jacob, Darren Nolan, David Redmond (0-2 each); Nicky Kirwan (0-2, free and 65); Eoin Moore, Conor O’Leary, Michael Jacob (0-1 each). Ballyhale Shamrocks – James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick (0-6, one free); Colin Fennelly (1-1); Eoin Reid (0-2); Henry Shefflin (0-1, free).
Ballyhale Shamrocks – Richard Reid, Paul Shefflin, Aidan Cummins, Alan Cuddihy, Michael Dermody, Joseph Holden, Robert Aylward, Eamon Walsh, Michael Fennelly, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Henry Shefflin, Mark Aylward, David Hoyne, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Reid. Subs – Patrick Reid for Shefflin (inj) 22nd min; Liam Grant for D. Hoyne 45th min.
Oulart-the-Ballagh – B. O’Connor, D. Morton, K. Rossiter, B. Kehoe, C. Goff, D. Stamp, E. Moore, D. Redmond, S. Murphy, D. Nolan, P. Roche, C. O’Leary, R. Jacob, G. Sinnott, N. Kirwan. Subs – L. Prendergast for Goff 10th min; M. Jacob for S. Murphy 37th min; D. Mythen for P. Roche 43rd min.
Referee – B. Kelly (Westmeath).