Ballyhale Shamrocks worked through their box of tricks and eventually they came up with the combination that unlocked St Martin’s (Muckalee) tight game plan.
After that it was a head-to-head between two good teams, and Shamrocks had the class to work a fine win that earned them a place in the final and shot at what would be their 15th senior hurling championship title.
“That was a difficult test,” suggested Shamrocks manager, Andy Moloney. “By the end we knew we had some game played. That was tough. St Martin’s set up defensively and it took us a long time to get on top, even with the wind.
“After 20 minutes were behind playing with the wind. The lads dug deep and got the result in the end. We had to make a few moves to try and get some of our lads into the game, and nullify the Martin’s players.
“Overall the experience of Henry (Shefflin) and Colin (Fennelly) in attack helped us a lot. Winning any championship is a panel effort. Our lads are training well. They are working hard in training. When the chips were down they responded well.
“We are happy enough, but we have nothing won. We are in the final. We have a 50/50 chance. That is all it is. We will be up against it, but we have been preparing all season for the county final and now we have earned a shot at the title.”
Shamrocks opened backed by the wind blowing from the City end. In a bid to frustrate the opposition when facing the elements, Martin’s employed corner-forward, Paul Maher as an extra defender.
The game plan worked a treat... for about 20 minutes or so. With veteran John Maher leading the line brilliantly up front, Martin’s worked up a lead. The opening four points were shared equally and then John Maher got to the end of a great cross from Canice Maher before shooting the losers 0-3 to 0-2 in front in the 12th minute.
By the 19th minute Joe Maher, Brian Mulhall, after great approach work by John Maher and Eoin McGrath, and John Maher (free) all produced a profitable end result to some stylish and intelligent hurling by the Northerners. They were tight, disciplined and clever at the back; stylish and inventive up front.
They were worth their 0-6 to 0-2 lead; against the wind remember.
Shamrocks switched Henry Shefflin and Colin Fennelly between full and centre-forward. Slowly they found a rhythm. Eoin Reid for once found a bit of space and got a run at goal in the 21st minute. He produced a point. Henry landed another. Martin’s, for a while, became unsure, rash in the tackle.
T.J. Reid was dragged down and he turned a handy free into a point before a defender climbed all over Eoin Reid to conceded another one. T.J. hit the target. It was 0-6 each in the 24th minute.
The Shamrocks kicked on, not too strongly, but they kicked on. With T.J. Reid’s shooting a bit off - they hit eight wides in this half - they didn’t make all the gains they might have. It was left to a late brace of points from James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, one made by a strong burst up field by centre-back Michael Fennelly, the other by inventive play from the excellent Conor Walsh and Shefflin, to earn Shamrocks a slim interval lead of 0-8 to 0-6.
Martin’s had the opening point of the new half from John Mulhall, but with Shefflin working very well in the front line and Michael Fennelly powerful at No. 6, the winners edged the exchanges. They were turning up the heat when Martin’s had a defender sent off for a second bookable offence in the 40th minute.
T.J. Reid threw over the free to up the divide to 0-12 to 0-8. Martin’s shouldered the loss well for a while. They were a point less behind then Shamrocks struck for a top class goal in the 48th minute.
Shefflin kept the ball in play spectacularly on the left sideline near midfield. He diverted it to Michael Fennelly, who clipped it forward to T.J. Reid. The latter punched an opening in the centre of the Martin’s defence before sub Mark Aylward arrived at pace on his right shoulder.
A quick off load. Aylward raced forward and beat goalie Colin McGrath in a one-on-one contest. Lovely worked, lovely taken goal. Shamrocks jumped 1-13 to 0-10 in front. ‘Cha’ increased that with a minor two minutes later.
A man down, seven points adrift heading into the closing 10 minutes. It was all over for brave Martin’s.
SCORERS: Ballyhale Shamrocks - T.J. Reid (0-7, frees); Mark Aylward (1-1); Henry Shefflin, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick (0-3 each); Eoin Reid (0-2); Conor Walsh, Colin Fennelly, David Hoyne (0-1 each). St Martin’s - John Maher (0-8, five frees); Joe Maher (0-2); Brian Mulhall, Eoin McGrath, Thomas Breen, John Mulhall (0-1 each).
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Richie Reid, Alan Cuddihy, Joey Holden, Tom Coogan, Paul Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Conor Walsh, Bob Aylward, David Hoyne, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Colin Fennelly, T.J. Reid, Brian Cody, Henry Shefflin, Eoin Reid. Subs - Mark Aylward for Cody 46th min; Keith Nolan for T. Coogan 53rd min.
St Martin’s - Colin McGrath, James Maher, Ollie Walsh, Shane Cadigan, Brian Byrne, Patrick Nolan, Joe Maher, James Dowling, Canice Maher, Brian Mulhall, Eoin McGrath, Thomas Breen, John Mulhall, John Maher, Paul Maher. Sub - Shane Kinsella for B. Mulhall 59th min.
Referee - Raymond Byrne (Glenmore).