Richie Reid lifts the Walsh Cup, the third year in a row that the Shamrocks got their hands on the title. Picture: Willie Dempsey
There was a new look for the 2020 county senior hurling championship, but the season ended with a familiar look.
The Shamrocks proved they were a cut above the rest as they demolished the Dicksboro challenge to retain the senior crown for the third year in succession.
September’s final in UPMC Nowlan Park saw the Ballyhale men confirm their status as the county’s top side as they comprehensively beat the ’Boro on a 5-19 to 1-10 scoreline.
“It was a fairytale ending to a year that had a rocky start,” was the verdict of Shamrocks manager James O’Connor as he watched his team celebrate their 18th senior title with the small band of supporters who were able to get tickets to the county final.
O’Connor, who stepped into the hot seat vacated by Henry Shefflin after Ballyhale defended their club All-Ireland in February, was able to reflect on a championship where the Shamrocks ran riot.
Held over the course of little over a month, the senior championship saw the Shamrocks rack up the scores as they blitzed their way through the field.
Quick off the mark, they scorched past the Rower-Inistioge on a 4-34 to 0-8 scoreline in the first round of the championship.
They kept that goal run going in the quarter-finals, walloping Clara by 4-18 to 0-11.
The Ballyhale side kept their winning run going in the semi-final, but had a tougher time of it in a cracking game with James Stephens. The tie swung this way and that, but the experience of leaders TJ Reid (free) and Colin Fennelly saw the Shamrocks eke out a two-point lead as the game ticked into injury-time - they held that advantage, going through by 3-22 to 1-26.
The final, played on the last Sunday in September, saw Dicksboro provide the opposition. The city side had carved out their own little piece of hurling history earlier in the campaign, beating O’Loughlin Gaels on penalties in the league final - with replays ruled out for the shortened season it was the first piece of silverware to be decided in such a manner.
Much was made of Dicksboro’s path to the final - they looked impressive when beating Bennettsbridge in the quarter-final (3-27 to 2-14) and O’Loughlin Gaels in the semi-final (2-16 to 0-14), but they were never given a chance to settle in the county final.
Refusing to let their rivals settle, the Shamrocks took the game by the scruff of the neck within minutes of throw-in. By the 13th minute they were seven points clear, a Brian Cody goal the big score as they opened up a 1-5 to 0-1 lead inside the first quarter.
They didn’t let up. Colin Fennelly continued his fine championship scoring run when he plundered his side’s second goal before half-time. Although Shane Stapleton dragged the ’Boro back into the game the Shamrocks showed they were just as strong in defence as in attack as they went in eight points ahead at half-time (2-9 to 0-7).
Ballyhale were in no mood to let up, continuing on the relentless path which had carried them into the final. They kept picking off points to extend their lead, then hit Dicksboro with a late goal haul to cement their authority. Eoin Reid helped himself to a brace, with Eoin Cody adding a fifth to seal an awesome performance.
“I’ve never seen a team with so much drive,” said O’Connor. “Normally when you get a team who have won as much as these guys have the hunger isn’t the same, the same drive isn’t there any more - for these guys it’s like they haven’t won anything before. All they think about is the next week and the next game - they’re freaks of nature.”
COUNTY FINAL SCORERS:
Shamrocks – Eoin Reid (2-2); TJ Reid (0-8, 0-3 frees, 0-3 65); Eoin Cody, Brian Cody (1-1 each); Colin Fennelly (1-0); Ronan Corcoran (0-3); Patrick Mullen, Joe Cuddihy, Darragh Corcoran, Conor Walsh (0-1 each).
Dicksboro – Shane Stapleton (0-7, frees); Andrew Gaffney (1-1); Bill Sheehan, Evan Carroll (0-1 each).
The championship ended on a low note for Danesfort, who saw their run at the senior grade come to an end in Callan.
Having dodged the relegation trapdoor twice in recent years (2016 against Fenians and Carrickshock in 2018) they found that third time wasn’t a charm as Graigue-Ballycallan worked hard to grind out a 1-15 to 1-13 win and ensure another season in the top flight for 2021.