Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-21
St Mullins 0-15
By Kieran Murphy
ALL-Ireland senior club champions Ballyhale Shamrocks retained their Leinster title when they dashed the dreams of the rank-outsiders in Portlaoise on Sunday. In the lead-up, St Mullins always maintained they were not going into this game to make up the numbers. After all, their journey to this stage had been nothing less than adventurous. They could afford to lose one game in the group stages in Carlow but having eventually made their way through to the semi-final they could then have made their exit on three separate occasions, once in Carlow and twice in Leinster. That they didn’t was down to a number of factors. A fantastic spirit and a never-say-die attitude served them well. Then again, they have players who can hurl who stared down adversity. Players who would be unknown outside of their own club consistently produced during what turned out to be a longer season than even the most optimistic St Mullins supporter could have imagined. It is a great story.
Right from the start here they showed little regard for the reputation of their illustrious rivals. The sides were level on three occasions in the opening seven minutes. Adrian Mullen opened the scoring for the Kilkenny side but Marty Kavanagh levelled with a free. TJ Reid landed a free but Jason O’Neill, who scored that historic winner for St Mullins in the county final, touched over a fabulous sideline cut on the left-hand side. That was the nature of the opening exchanges and the south Carlow side toughed it out successfully when players were needed at the breaking ball and in individual tussles around the field.
On 10 minutes Marty Kavanagh put St Mullins 0-4 to 0-3 in front and then drew a huge roar from his supporters when he stretched the lead with a long-rang effort.
Typically, TJ Reid replied with two frees for Ballyhale and while All-Star Colin Fennelly was getting nothing easy from Paul Doyle he still managed to get away a scoring pass to Eoin Reid who settled for a point. Ballyhale visibly dug a little deeper. Their reward was two points in succession from Brian Cody. St Mullins contested everything.
Coming towards half-time, Marty Kavanagh converted a 65 for St Mullins as Brian Cody notched his third point to push his side into a 0-11 to 0-7 half-time lead.
If there was a difference between the sides it was the half-time stat which revealed four of the six starting forwards for the All-Ireland champions scored from play. In the half, TJ Reid’s three points all came from frees.
Both sides registered early second-half wides. Then came the sequence of events which will leave St Mullins players, supporters and admirers alike wondering, what if?.
When James Doyle burst through the Ballyhale defence he had only one thing on his mind. His shot from the left of the big square had goal written all over it but the sliotar just caught the edge of the keeper’s left-hand post and flew wide.
Straight from the puck-out Ballyhale made St Mullins pay when Reid picked out Colin Fennelly on the edge of the small parallelogram. It might be harsh to say it wasn’t the prettiest goal the big full-forward ever scored, but the ball ended up in the back of the St Mullins net.
A six-point turnaround in a matter of seconds was huge. Not just in the context of the game but it was very much a message from the masters that they had heeded the warning signs and were ready to reach out for victory themselves. With Eoin Cody and Reid adding further points, the Carlow representatives had it all to do.
They might have been second best on the scoreboard but St Mullins never faltered. Jason O’Neill scored a magical point from a narrow angle on the right. Kavanagh converted two frees but Adrian Mullen and Reid cancelled those efforts out. James Doyle rattled over a great point from underneath the stand for St Mullins.
The champions led by nine points. Many sides in St Mullins’ shoes would have been content with their contribution to that point and settled for an honourable defeat.
Not here. Ballyhale were made to work for everything they earned right to the very end. Even in injury time, James Doyle rose high to win possession over the head of Michael Fennelly.
The Kilkenny star could have been accused of failing to take due care and attention of an opposing player as the St Mullins man came to ground. Having already been yellow carded, Fennelly walked for the second foul.
Carlow hurling honour was upheld over the hour while Ballyhale will benefit from a tough test in their bid to retain their All-Ireland title.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darragh Corcoran, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen; Evan Shefflin (0-1), Michael Fennelly, Brian Butler; Ronan Corcoran, Conor Phelan (0-1); Adrian Mullen (0-3), Brian Cody (0-3), TJ Reid (0-9, 0-8 frees); Eoin Reid (0-1), Colin Fennelly (1-0), Eoin Cody (0-2). Subs: Joey Cuddihy for E Reid (44 mins), Conor Walsh for Phelan (45 mins), Gavin Butler for Corcoran (56 mins), Mark Aylward (0-1) for E Cody (54 mins), Jason Devereaux for B Cody (60 mins).
St Mullins: Kevin Kehoe; John Doran, Paul Doyle, Garry Bennett; Chris Kavanagh, Ger Coady, Oisin Boland; Michael Walsh, Jack Kavanagh; Seamus Murphy, Marty Kavanagh (0-12, 0-8 frees 65), Paidi O’Shea; Jason O’Neill (0-2, 0-1 sl), James Doyle (0-1), Patrick Boland. Subs: Patrick Walsh for J Kavanagh (49 mins), Philip Connors for P Boland (54 mins), John Murphy for C Kavanagh (56 mins), Oisin Ryan for Bennett (58 mins), Paul Kehoe for O’Neill (59 mins).
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)