Ballygunner’s JJ Hutchinson is left dejected by the whole thing at the end of the game against Ballyhale Shamrocks in Thurles on Saturday night. Photo: Inpho.
All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final – The Big Match Review
Ballygunner’s dream of playing in an All-Ireland senior hurling club final on St. Patrick’s Day will have to wait at least another 12 months to be realised after they were denied, for the second time in the club’s history, at the semi-final stage in Thurles on Saturday.
Instead of the red and black of Ballygunner it will be the men in white and green from south Kilkenny, Ballyhale Shamrocks who will take on St. Thomas’ of Galway in GAA HQ on our national holiday. The Galway men are chasing a second All-Ireland title, while the men from Kilkenny are looking for a seventh.
A TALE OF TWO ENDS
For Ballygunner this game was as good as decided by a cruel couple of second-half minutes. With 39 minutes on the clock Ballygunner looked certain to grab the game’s crucial opening goal as the scores were tied on 0-9 apiece. A combination of an untypically muddy Semple Stadium goalmouth and the rear-end of a Ballyhale defender somehow conspired to keep the ball out of the net and just over three minutes later Shamrocks’ corner-forward Eoin Cody rose into the sky to win his own ball and took off towards the Ballygunner goal before clinically dispatching the sliothar low beyond Stephen O’Keeffe. You could sense that the opening goal of this game was always going to be huge and so it proved, the game’s only goal as it turned out.
From here on the Kilkenny men really stamped their authority on the game. Michael Fennelly and Joey Holden were outstanding in the pivotal number six and three jerseys and Ballygunner were all at sea in the vital middle third of the field. Although the Shamrocks never led by more than five, and that was thanks to two injury-time points, you got the feeling that once they got that all important goal, they weren’t going to be denied and try as they did, up to the last whistle, Ballygunner just couldn’t break them down.
EXPERIENCE KEY IN SEMI-FINALS
For the entire Ballygunner panel, except manager Fergal Hartley, this was a new experience, while for the Shamrocks five of this team started the 2015 All-Ireland club final and ten of this team had All-Ireland semi-final experience. That’s huge at this level and I think it counted big time on the day.
Another stat that definitely contributed to the result was the one that read that Ballyhale scored 1-12 from play, from six different scorers, while Ballygunner managed just 0-3 from play, from just two scorers. Not good enough I’m afraid.
That said, Ballygunner were right in this game up until the final whistle and I’ve no doubt that Henry Shefflin and his charges will have been delighted to get out of Thurles with their dream of Croke Park on March 17 still intact, especially after they found themselves 0-4 to 0-1 down to a quartet of Pauric Mahony white flags in the opening ten minutes. But they never panicked and they roared back into the game in the second ten minutes and by the 20 minute mark they were in front for the first time in the game.
Ballygunner probably just about deserved their one-point lead at the break and there was nothing in it all the way up to that all important goal from the excellent Eoin Cody, who was ably assisted up front by the equally outstanding Adrian Mullen.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
There’s no doubt that Ballygunner will be in a dark place this week as they will have really fancied their chances of going all the way in this competition after disposing of the hot favourites, Na Piarsaigh, in the Munster Final but in a week or two I’m sure they will come around and realise that they had a great season. Five News & Star Cups in a row, just a second ever Munster Final win and memorable wins over Midleton and Ballyea along the way. It wasn’t to be on Saturday but they’ll be back in action on the last weekend in March against Clonea in the opening round of the 2019 County SHC when they will begin their search for six. And if they achieve that then I’ve no doubt they’ll give Munster and the All-Ireland a right good rattle again in 2019/20.