IF you wanted to find out just why Kilkenny hurling is so successful, you could have done worse than travelled to Nowlan Park last Sunday to see the SHC final between Ballyhale Shamrocks and James Stephens.
It finished level, Ballyhale 0-11 to 1-8 for James Stephens. Conditions were dreadful with the two teams having to perform in torrential rain, yet they somehow served up an engrossing contest.
Fittingly, it was one of the all-time greats of Kilkenny hurling Henry Shefflin who had the last word, sending over the free well into injury time which earned Ballyhale a draw. It was hard on James Stephens given that they had dominated the second half and looked certain to win their first title since 2005.
But no one was really complaining too much, such was the intensity of the contest. After all, there’s a huge amount to look forward too when the sides meet again in the replay set for next Sunday.
“There’s no talk of refereeing or conditions in our dressingroom.” stated James Stephens manager Niall Rigney. “Look we can still win this.
“We’re proud as hell of them. It was an unbelievable day to play hurling, but our hearts are massive.”
So are those of Ballyhale Shamrocks. Bidding for their fifth title in six years, they admitted that they were fortunate to come away with the draw.
“That was a battle on a terrible day for hurling and we are lucky to survive.” admitted manager Michael Fennelly Sr. “But fair play to Henry. He never misses.”
Astonishingly, Shefflin was held scoreless from play, a fantastic achievement on the part of the James Stephens defence, and in particular Donnacha Cody, son of Kilkenny manager Brian. Importantly though, Shefflin did contribute 0-7 from frees.
Ballyhale led by 0-8 to 0-4 at the interval. But, with the elements in their favour, James Stephens hit back to eventually take the lead when David Walton drilled a shot past Richie Reid in the 55th minute.
Although Shefflin levelled matters again, the James Stephens fans must have thought they had made certain of victory when Eoin Larkin put them in front after 60 minutes. But, they were to find out as may teams have done before, that nothing is certain when the opposition contains Henry Shefflin.
The awful weather was also a factor in the Clare hurling decider which saw Crusheen get the better of Sixmilebridge by 0-10 to 0-4 at Cusack Park. Many felt that the game should not have gone ahead so bad were the conditions.
That said, Crusheen deserve enormous credit for retaining their crown. Last year was their first time ever to lift the trophy.
This time around they had to withstand some real pressure to see off the famed Sixmilebridge outfit. Amazingly, Sixmilebridge had the new Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald, formerly the Waterford boss, on their bench.
He didn’t get involved as first choice goalkeeper Derek Fahy lasted the full game. But Fahy could do little as Crusheen took control in the second half.
Conditions made good hurling virtually impossible but Crusheen coped that bit better. Their half-back line of Ciaran O’Doherty and Cathal and Cian Dillon played a major role, while Gearoid O’Donnell was outstanding in contributing three points.
Unsurprisingly, some of the Sixmilebridge players and management team weren’t happy. “It might sound like sour grapes, but I don’t think it should have gone ahead. I’ve never played in those conditions” argued full-forward Niall Gilligan.
Antrim’s Loughgiel Shamrock’s took the Ulster SHC final beating Ballycran St Joseph’s 2-18 to 0-8. Ballycran were still in contention when trailing by 0-8 to 0-5 at the interval but they were completely outclassed in the second period.
O’Connor helps Ballintubber
CILLIAN O’CONNOR, the newly crowned Young Footballer of the Year, demonstrated his talents in helping Ballintubber to a 1-10 to 1-9 success over the Castlebar Mitchels in the Mayo Senior Football Championship final at McHale Park on Sunday.
O’Connor scored 1-4 in a match that was only decided in the dying minutes with a point from Ballintubber substitute Damien McGing. His effort enabled his side to retain their title.
Ballintubber manager Anthony McGarry was full of praise for all of his team but particularly O’Connor. He said: “You would have forgiven Cillian for having his head elsewhere after getting his award last Friday night.” remarked McGarry.
“But he was more focused than anyone. Cillian is a fabulous player with a fabulous attitude. His feet are firmly on the ground.”
They needed to be as Castlebar put it right up to Ballintubber. Determined to make amends for last year’s defeat to their rivals, they scored a goal through Danny Kriby inside the opening minute.
At one stage they led by 1-3 to 0-2 but Ballintubber came roaring back with a goal of their own from O’Connor. The holders then led 1-5 to 1-4 at the break before the evenly contested match was decided by McGing’s late point.
Elsewhere, Dromore won their second Tyrone SFC title in three seasons by beating Clonoe 1-8 to 2-4. Teenager Niall Sludden was the hero sending over a superb winning point in the closing minutes.
The Westmeatch SFC final replay between Garrycastle and Mullingar Shamrocks was another close affair. Garrycastle emerged victorious 1-8 to 0-8 to grab a hat-trick of titles.
Again, the weather was dreadful but the crowd was treated to a good contest. Crucially, Garrycastle took an early lead with a goal from James Duignan but Mulligar produced some excellent football to stay in contention.
It took the experience of Dessie Dolan to see Garrycastle over the line. The veteran county star contributed 0-6, five of which came from frees.
Ballincourty had even less to spare as they won the Waterford SFC title with a 0-6 to 0-5 victory over Stradbally in Dungarvan, while a big contribution from Ireland International Rules squad member Leighton Glynn helped Rathnew edge past St Patrick’s 0-8 to 0-7 in the Wicklow semi-final.
Another interesting match saw Tuam Stars get the better of Salthill/Knocknacarra 1-8 to 0-9 in a Galway semi-final replay. Moyle Rovers and Thomas McDonaghs will contest the Tipperary SFC final after beating Arravale Rovers and Clonmel Commericals respectively.
In Dublin, former county star Jason Sherlock got the goal which proved decisive in St Olivers Plunketts 2-9 to 0-9 quarter-final success over St Vincents. Bernard Brogan also played a big part with six points but Player of the Year Alan Brogan was not involved.
St. Oliver Plunketts will now face Lucan Sarsfields in the semi-final with St Brigids taking on Ballymun Kickhams in the other semi-final. Parnells lost 1-9 to 0-7 to Ballymun in the quarter-final, leaving Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton available to captain the International Rules side in Australia.
Irish beat Scots
IRELAND made a good start to their two-match Hurling/Shinty test series against Scotland in Athy on Saturday.
The won by 1-16 to 2-8 to establish a five point advantage for the second leg in Inverness. Tipperary’s Eoin Kelly was outstanding, scoring five points in extremely difficult conditions.
Manager Joe Dooley was, however, cautious. He said:”I’m very happy with the performance but remember it is only half-time. Hopefully, the weather will be better for the second game.”
World Cup players to return to provinces
MOST of the Irish Rugby World Cup squad can expect to be back in action when the Rabo Direct Pro 12 tournament resumes next weekend.
And those who do not participate will probably return for Leinster’s game against Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Friday November 4. Leinster, with 14 involved in the World Cup, are particularly concious of the need to monitor players.
“It’s difficult.” admitted coach Joe Schmidt. “Some of the players have played a lot, people like Cian Healy, and they may need a rest.
“Some of the players probably peaked for the victory over Australia in the World but were maybe a bit fatigued for the quarter-final against Wales. So, we will have to see how they are.”
It’s a difficult situation, particularly as the first round of the Heineken Cup, starts on the weekend of Nov. 11-13. But then it is the same for everyone.