By John Foley
PERHAPS one of the most unenviable tasks on Sunday was that of keeping shackles on Ballyhale Shamrocks forward Colin Fennelly on the edge of the square.
He got in for a goal in the second half but the St Mullins’ defensive effort, led by full-back Paul Doyle, was impressive.
Ballyhale’s scores never came without a battle.
“We really stuck with them in the first half and at half time we were very positive,” Paul said after the game. “We were delighted with how we were going. But in the second half, the first 10 minutes they built up a bit of a lead and we couldn’t reel them back in. The goal was a killer. We did so well to keep them out for so long, unfortunately they got that goal. In fairness to the lads, they kept plugging away. They scored maybe 1-2 in three or four minutes and it was just their experience that told.”
The Carlow intercounty defender said it took a full team effort to keep the likes of Fennelly in check.
“We knew how much of a threat he is from club games throughout the year, the same with county games. He gets the ball into his hand, he’s so strong, so powerful, he’s going to get around you and score points. So we just tried to keep the ball away from him as much as we could.
“It wasn’t the case that I was marking him. Everyone was back helping out. That’s where teamwork comes from, everyone was back working. No-one just stuck to their own man, it was a team effort.”
Once Ballyhale scored their goal, it was always going to be difficult to close the deficit, but they never threw in the towel.
“We had a few chances and on other days they might have gone for us,” said Paul. “It’s just the breaking ball, the way it goes. I’m so proud of the lads, everyone kept plugging away to the end. We could have easily died off after they scored 1-2 in the second half, but the lads died in their boots.”
He had a special word for their supporters who cheered on their team to the final whistle.
“They were unbelievable,” said Paul. “Even when we came out at the very start of the match, seeing them over there, it’s massive for us, having the support we had. I’d say the whole parish is empty below, I hope someone turned off the lights.
“The same on the way up here today; the signs, the flags all over Carlow, on the way through St Joseph’s in Laois. The hurling community, it’s a small community but we’re all together in it.”
James Doyle, so often the hero for his club this year, was closely marked throughout the game but he still managed to work some space for a couple of attempts at a goal. He said Ballyhale’s goal was a huge turning point in the contest.
“That’s going to be a heartbreak for any team but the lads didn’t give up,” James said. “We knew that if we went in at half time within five or six points, we were in it. Four points is not much in hurling and we said we’d come out all guns blazing in the second half. But look, the goal they got in the second half, that’s what they can do. It did kill us off a bit. Ballyhale were just the better team on the day.”
He said he expected a huge physical challenge from the Ballyhale team and that’s what they got.
“Like any Kilkenny team, they come out and they hit you hard, they’re a dogged team. If you come in here and think they’re not going to hit you hard, you’re gone straight away.”
He also had a word for the supporters who brought their colours to the game in style.
“Only for them we wouldn’t be here today,” said James.
“Especially the last week, the parish at home was on a high, everyone with flags up, it’s all everyone was talking about. They were just brilliant.”