TRAILING your rivals when heading into injury-time in a county final is testing for any side, but Shamrocks captain Michael Fennelly felt it brought the best out of Ballyhale.
“It was looking very dangerous for us, but the lads dug their heels in,” he said, speaking after Sunday’s drawn senior hurling county final with James Stephens. “We said we’d keep going and going until the very end when the final whistle was blown. It just shows the character that is there in the side.
“The ball was down around our full-back line, then came up the right wing, but the lads kept working it on until we got that free in the end,” he said, recalling the drive that led to Henry Shefflin’s equaliser. “A draw was probably a fair result, as it gives both teams another crack at it next weekend.”
Getting a replay was not only fair to the teams he reckoned, but also the supporters.
“I’d say it was a horrible game to watch,” reckoned the newly-crowned Hurler of the Year. “It wasn’t really hurling out there, more trying to survive. A lot of the time it was a case of trying to get the ball into your hand, but then you’d find yourself on the floor!
“It’s hard to prepare for conditions like that,” he added. “I brought two pairs of boots with me for the game - moulded and studs. I changed into the studs at half-time and I’d say I was worse - I was slipping all over the place! I still don’t know which boots are better to use!”
Despite the heavy downpour at throw-in time Shamrocks made a great start, taking control of the game in the opening quarter.
“We needed to be a few points ahead considering we had the wind behind us in the first half, but we were only four up at the break, which was a small lead,” said Fennelly. “However, at times playing against the breeze tends to suit us. The sliotar is held up more and we tend to open up teams a bit better. It was an ok performance, but I think both teams did what they could on what was a bad day for hurling.”
It was a day when the elements destroyed the enthusiasm of the game.
“There’s no bones about it - the weather killed off the game,” the Shamrocks captain agreed. “On a county final day you’re hoping to get a good fast game of hurling; that’s Kilkenny hurling for you. I don’t know what that (Sunday’s final) was out there. It was a hard slog, lads did what they could but it was disappointing to be out there playing in that. Having trained all year, from playing in the Summer and enjoying some good hurling to going out there just trying to hurl is a pity, but that’s the way it goes.”
Although Fennelly admitted that the Shamrocks liked to play against the wind, that belief was tested as the elements seemed to rejuvenate James Stephens.
“When you go behind and you’re against the breeze it can be hard to reel a team in,” he said. “The other team tend to hit the ball long and keep possession down in our half. Once it’s there it’s out of their danger zone. It tends to vary depending on the score - if you’re a couple of points ahead you can enjoy a bit more room and hold up the ball a bit better but that’s the way the game goes.
“Fair play to Henry, he kept his nerve and fired that last free over the bar,” added Fennelly. “Other players might have let their heads drop (with a pressure free) but he stood up and tucked it over the bar. At times you’d have been lucky to hold on to the hurl out there (it happened me at one stage - I think the hurley went further than the sliotar!) but Henry hit that free a good smack and stuck it dead between the posts.”