Colin Fennelly was in blinding form for Shamrocks
As fast as they had come upon us after the break for the inter-county championship and All-Ireland hurling final, it was time on Sunday to wrap up the senior and intermediate club seasons with the playing of the county finals.
In the intermediate decider, Tullaroan and Thomastown did battle. The former were looking to banish the ghosts of 2018 when neighbours and fierce rivals, Graigue-Ballycallan came from behind to snatch the title.
A Thomastown team on the up and chasing a League/Championship double stood in their way.
In the senior final, defending Kilkenny and All-Ireland champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks were on the prowl again.
They hit UPMC Nowlan Park following an impressive second half performance in the semi-final against O’Loughlin Gaels.
Their opponents, James Stephens, were equally impressive against Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) in their semi-final. The city team arrived under the radar and Ballyhale had to be careful to cope with their game plan that served them well all season.
While the big crowd would have felt the temperatures dropping as they sat in the stands, the temperature on the field hit fever pitch!
Fans were blessed with favourable conditions on most weekends this season, and on Sunday the sun made an appearance although the weather was cold. There was little or no wind.
Tullaroan and Thomastown shared a most unusual feature in that a lot of their starting XV players shared the same surname. There were six Walshes’ on the Tullaroan team and three Donnellys’ in action for Thomastown.
While Tullaroan had a full deck to choose from, Thomastown had lost one of their top forwards, Thomas O’Hanrahan to injury. However, the show must go on!
Tullaroan’s Shane Walsh got things going with a free in the second minute. Robbie Donnelly answered via a free.
It was almost like a free taking competition during the opening 15 minutes before Peter Walsh pounced for a goal for Tullaroan.
Tullaroan had been finding gaps in the Thomastown defence, and they could have had a couple of goals on the ’board before that. It was only a matter of time before they found the net.
That being said, Robbie and Stephen Donnelly got scores for Thomastown to keep things tight.
Tullaroan kept trying for goals, but they were unable to take them and they let the opposition back into the game.
The action was tense, but Tullaroan were positive in their approach and attitude. A second goal from Peter Walsh helped shoot them into a half-time lead of 2-8 to 0-10.
Not much in it
During the second half there was rarely much in it, one or two points most of the way.
A fourth Donnelly was introduced after half time for Thomastown when Eddie was sprung from the bench, as was Dylan Caulfield, who scored the first point of the half.
Scores from play were scarce for the losers. They relied heavily on Robbie Donnelly from frees, and without Thomas O’Hanrahan they did not seem to have that one player who could take the game to the opposition; who could inspire.
Tullaroan grew in confidence and tenacity with every passing minute. Tommy Walsh, who was quiet in the first half at full-forward, came alive in the second.
He scored 1-2 which really lifted the team and inspired them to a big finish. Tullaroan were determined to win, and they did so impressively.
They answered critics and they appear to be well armed for a blast at the Leinster club championship.
One county title decided!
The senior final was next on the menu. It was a clash of heavyweights: James Stephens and Ballyhale Shamrocks.
The Village were going for their tenth title, and their second in this decade. Ballyhale were chasing their 17th title, and their fourth of the decade.
’Stephens enjoyed a dream start. Tadhg O’Dwyer shot a goal after only a matter of seconds.
This continued the trend of starting positively in games.
Ballyhale got their first score from a lively Colin Fennelly. Eoin Guilfoyle kept The Village driving on when he pointed a free.
It was a bit like a game of chess during the opening stages.
Neither team gave an inch. Adrian Mullen and Brian Cody were growing into the game, and you could sense a Ballyhale surge was on the way. It was brought closer when Brian Cody scored a goal.
From then on, which was the 11th minute, Ballyhale never relinquished the lead. One felt ’Stephens were not asking enough questions of the champions half back line.
Centre-back Michael Fennelly and his wing men were able to find their colleagues at their ease with clearances.
At half-time they led by 1-12 to 1-7. A wonderfully created 40th minute goal from Eoin Cody decided it.
Put simply, The Village were beaten by a superior team. Ballyhale don’t have to think about hurling. They just do.
They were sharp and economical with their scores. ’Stephens scrambled around a bit, and strayed from doing the simple things right.
Another thing about Ballyhale is that when one player is below his best, another steps up. TJ Reid was not as devastating as he can be.
Colin Fennelly, Adrian Mullen and Eoin Cody all stepped up on recent form.
The second half offered a not unusual narrative. The Village were trying. Shamrocks were doing.
Ballyhale powered on and took advantage of their opponents uncertainty. The game never really caught fire as a result.
The contest petered out as the champs scored an emphatic win. It was a one sided final. You just have to admire Shamrocks the way they can get a job done.
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