O’Loughlin Gaels players celebrate after beating the Shamrocks in the 2016 county final - the last time the clubs met in the senior decider
The performance was laced with the passion and desire of Kilkenny in their pomp, and the attitude and approach served O’Loughlin Gaels well.
The St John’s Park blitzed mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks during the closing quarter, outscoring them by 0-5 to 0-2 as they ran up their fourth victory in the senior hurling championship final.
A three-point difference might not, on the face of it, qualify as a blitz.
However, when you add substance to the story, like how the Shamrocks were held scoreless during the closing 10 minutes and O’Loughlin’s ran up five wides in a row during a frenzy of shooting in a dash to the line you get a clearer picture of the tale that unfolded at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
It wasn’t the best county final but, as the second half unwound and the belief soared within the O’Loughlin’s ranks and they simply took over the game.
The long servers served well again - centreback and captain Brian Hogan (35), Alan Geoghegan (38), the Kearns brothers and that lively veteran who has been irrepressible all season, Martin Comerford (37).
If there was to be an award for the Player of the Championship, Comerford would probably walk it. He was the one who turned difficulty into opportunity on countless occasions during the campaign.
The youngsters too thrilled with energy, calmness and intent in their hurling. Huw Lawlor (20), Paddy Butler (24) and Paddy Deegan (20) were terrific in the finishing strait when they unburdened themselves and let rip.
Particularly good during that time too was Danny Loughnane, who seemed to be everywhere assistance was needed, while Mark Bergin was Mark Bergin - chance-taker as chances came his way. He didn’t miss a free, and finished with 11 points in the bag.
And with Shamrocks wobbling and there to be knocked over, O’Loughlin’s sent on young Sean Bolger (18). He was a busy bee with a sting. He landed one score and got in three shots at goal during a 13-minute run of duty. That was fair going.
Shamrocks found their best, most dangerous men well marked and held in check. That wasn’t an accident.
TJ Reid, while he plundered an early goal out of virtually nothing, was well held and crowded every time he was in possession.
He wasn’t given space or opportunity to cause damage.
Ditto Colin Fennelly, while the experienced Henry Shefflin was man-marked into a quiet, secondary role.
The best of the Shamrocks was seen from young Darren Mullen, who is part of the long-term future, and the busy Mark Aylward.
For some, the long journey on the road simply caught up with them as O’Loughlin’s outlasted, outran and outworked them.
“The hurt of losing last year was a factor,” admitted O’Loughlin’s manager Aidan Fogarty, the former Offaly great.
“There has been intent about the players all season. Their skill and determination were rewarded in the end.”
Shamrocks didn’t make it easy for the new champions at the start. After TJ Reid and Mark Bergin traded early points, the losers grabbed a goal from virtually nothing.
A harmless ball was swung in from the left at the country end goal. TJ Reid half ran, half stumbled through a nervous Gaels defence before getting off a weak shot at the target. The ball ended up in the net.
That goal was the difference for 20 minutes or so until O’Loughlin’s had a brace of minors from Bergin - following fouls on Paddy Deegan and Comerford - to cut the deficit to the minimum (1-5 to 0-7).
Shamrocks picked things up again and points from Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid, against one reply from Sammy Johnston, left them leaders at half-time by 1-7 to 0-8.
Within 30 seconds of the restart Paddy Butler swept the ball on, one-handed from midfield, and it was claimed 30 metres further forward by Martin Comerford, who pointed.
Then on 32 minutes Huw Lawlor drew a foul, and Mark Bergin turned the opportunity into the equalising point (1-7 to 0-10).
Already the exchanges were warmer, tougher too. As casual as you like, Shamrocks, almost like Shamrocks of old, breezed three points clear again with a sharp burst lasting as many minutes (1-10 to 0-10).
We weren’t to know it at the time, but that was to be the best from the losers all afternoon.
O’Loughlin’s kept driving and driving. On 42 minutes it was level again - 1-10 to 0-13.
Again, Shamrocks threatened, but at the end of a great move Patrick Reid shot wide.
O’Loughlin’s hit the front for the first time in the 44th minute when scorer Danny Loughnane was put in space by Mark Bergin (0-14 to 1-10).
Shamrocks hit back through Patrick Mullen before Alan Geoghegan worked a ball to Martin Comerford, who drew one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon when finding the target from 30 metres on the left sideline.
When Shamrocks hit back through Eoin Reid it was level again (0-15 to 1-12). There were 10 minutes left to play.
The hurling was more open and lively now, but Shamrocks were having extreme difficulty in all departments against an O’Loughlin’s defence that was growing more powerful and cohesive. With Loughnane, Bolger, Deegan and Bergin adding late points O’Loughlin’s roared as their defence drove back virtually every assault on their territory.
They created chances, they missed them - what matter. The day’s work was done. The Tom Walsh Cup was on its way back to St John’s Park.
O’Loughlin Gaels - Mark Bergin (0-11, 0-10 frees, 0-1 65); Martin Comerford, Danny Loughnane (0-2 each); Paddy Butler, Paddy Deegan, Sammy Johnston, Sean Bolger (0-1 each).
Shamrocks - TJ Reid (1-5, 0-3 frees); Bob Aylward, Mark Aylward, Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Reid, Patrick Reid, Patrick Mullen (0-1 each).
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