During the opening 10 minutes of Sunday’s senior county final Clara played like champions, but by the 16th minute Ballyhale Shamrocks had overrun them with a display that was impressive and clinical, writes Nickey Brennan.
When Shamrocks are in full flow no one can match them. Since the club won its first title in 1978 we have become accustomed to seeing class performances from players brimming with style and panache.
Once the new champions took a grip on the game it began to look like an uphill struggle for Clara. Last year’s champions were behind at the interval, but not to the extent that the game was out of reach.
A good start by Clara which saw Chris Bolger score a goal hinted that this might be their day. That early dominance came to an end, though, when the ever alert Mark Aylward scored a goal for the Shamrocks.
With the Shamrocks crisp play moving on to a new level Clara struggled. The ability of the winners attack to prise open the Clara rear-guard with deft cross-field passes saw the new champions score some delightful points.
Whenever Clara managed to clear the ball out of defence too often it landed with an opposing player. Those clearances were regularly hurried, testimony to the work rate of the Shamrocks players.
Clara could not be faulted, but their play showed none of the fluency we witnessed in their three championship ties before Sunday. The Shamrocks clearly had their homework done.
Too often in the second half Clara’s Chris Bolger was their lone attacking threat. Joey Holden was outstanding at full back for Shamrocks, but he received plenty of help.
Further out the field T.J. Reid ran the show, ably assisted by James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick. But this was essentially a great team display in which the undoubted class flowing through the Shamrocks side radiated around Nowlan Park.
Clara is capable of playing better but when the danger signs really emerged in the second half they could not come up with a formula to counteract the intelligent play from the Shamrocks.
Exciting minor final
The curtain-raiser produced a more exciting game than its senior counterpart. In the end O’Loughlin Gaels atoned for last year’s loss to the Rower-Inistioge.
When Dicksboro looks back on this final they will do so with much anguish and huge regret. With their opponents down to 14 players and the ‘Boro leading with the finishing line in sight, they already had one hand on the cup.
The loss of centre-back Robbie Buckley to a second yellow card looked to have been a fatal blow to O’Loughlin Gaels.
It says a lot for the character in the team that they dug deep, very deep, in fact, to conjure up a late and decisive goal that helped them capture the title.
It was a devastating way for Dicksboro to lose the final. Right now it will be no consolation to the players to know that many of them are under-age again next year.
Sunday’s victory sees O’Loughlin Gaels complete the under-age hat trick of titles at minor, under-16 and under-14 level. It is an outstanding achievement and testimony to the superb under-age structure in the club which is led by a group of young men who themselves have achieved much, both on and off the pitch.
The popularity of Sunday’s finals was evident in the number of people who came to Kilkenny from all over Ireland.
I met people from numerous counties who came to watch a great game and some of the best hurlers currently playing it.
For excitement the minor final kept the crowd on their toes to the finish. The senior game never generated the same buzz or excitement, yet we were able to marvel at some exquisite skills from the players on both sides.
On Sunday Ballyhale Shamrocks played the better hurling, individually and collectively and deservedly won their 15th title.