The 1990 Ballyhale Shamrocks team
Despite their youth, Ballyhale Shamrocks have overtaken many experienced rivals to become the king of the senior hurling club scene.
The club, which was only founded in 1972, has won the senior club All-Ireland title six times, putting them at the top of the hurling tree.
The club first tasted national success in 1981, when they beat Cork champions St Finbarr’s in the final.
The game, which was played in Semple Stadium in May of that year, saw the Shamrocks rise to a 1-15 to 1-11 victory with a stylish display which centred on Liam Fennelly’s match-winning goal midway through the second half.
As the Kilkenny People match report put it: “By playing hurling of a rare sort, the players from the small southern parish of about 260 houses clocked up the county’s second success in this championship. And because of this victory, they have gained national recognition for the stylish hurling they have been producing regularly at home.”
Winning the All-Ireland came on the back of three successive county titles. Incidentally, the team featured no less than SEVEN Fennelly brothers! They were Kevin, Sean, Michael, Ger, Brendan and Liam. Dermot Fennelly replaced the injured Watty Phelan.
The Shamrocks were back in the national focus in 1984. Having won their fifth county title in six years they made it all the way to the All-Ireland final, but only after a real battle.
Ballyhale beat Antrim’s McQuillans Ballycastle by 10 points in the semi-final in Navan in April - then 24 hours later took on Gort in the final in Birr!
That they didn’t win the game wasn’t a surprise, but the tired Shamrocks managed to send the tie to a replay thanks to a superb Dermot Fennelly point late on.
The replay wasn’t played until June 1984, when the sides met again in Semple Stadium. The Galway champions were no match for their Kilkenny counterparts this time, the Shamrocks winning by 1-10 to 0-6.
All-Ireland number three came in 1990, when the Shamrocks saw off Ballybrown of Limerick. Ballybrown led by six points before Ger Fennelly’s goal got the Kilkennymen back on track. The Limerick side still had the advantage at half-time (0-12 to 1-5), but Ballyhale’s second half surge gave them a 1-16 to 0-16 win. On the team that day was current selector Tommy Shefflin, who contributed two points to the winning tally.
In 2007 many of the players who would become household names over the next decade made their presence felt on the national scene. A Leinster final win over Birr was followed by a pulsating All-Ireland semi-final win over Toomevara. The final, against Loughrea, saw the likes of James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick and Michael Fennelly lead the way as Ballyhale powered to their fourth club All-Ireland, joining Birr at the top of the roll of honour.
As in the past a brotherly connection paved the way to Ballyhale’s 3-12 to 2-8 win, with Eoin, Patrick and TJ Reid contributing 3-7 between them.
The pain of losing the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final was the spur as Shamrocks soared to national glory in 2010. Beaten by Portumna in Semple Stadium, the Ballyhale side bounced back to beat the Galway outfit by 1-19 to 0-17 in the Croke Park decider on St Patrick’s Day.
“Sweet moving Portumna blew the Kilkenny champions off their feet and out of the championship when they produced a whirlwind hurling show in the All-Ireland club senior semi-final 12 months ago,” wrote John Knox in his 2010 final report.
“However, when it came to a rematch in the All-Ireland final, deadly Shamrocks turned the tables on the opposition to claim their fifth win in the championship.”
The match-deciding moment came in the 46th minute when Portumna tried to scramble the ball back to their goalkeeper.
The sliotar fell near the edge of the square. David Hoyne pounced. Portumna lost their title the moment the net creased.
Ballyhale’s last appearance in the final was also their most clinical. They turned the 2015 final into a procession, comfortably beating Limerick’s Kilmallock by 1-18 to 1-6. The Shamrocks were winners from a long way out as Kilmallock suffered a serious dose of the nerves as they sought their first title for club and county.
Leading by 1-7 to 0-4 at half-time, the goal coming from Colin Fennelly, the Shamrocks never let up after the restart. With strong performances from Joey Holden, Alan Cuddihy and Conor Walsh, the Shamrocks piled on the scores between the 41st and 52nd minutes to jump well clear.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.