Ballyhale Shamrocks 2-22 Kilmacud Crokes 2-19
By Paul Keane & Ben O’Keeffe at Croke Park
Ballyhale Shamrocks are AIB Leinster club SHC champions for a 12th time, but it took an epic struggle to shrug off Kilmacud Crokes and secure a third consecutive title at Croke Park.
Pat Hoban’s side looked to have a landmark win in the bag as early as the 35th minute when they led by 14 points.
Remarkably, that gap was cut to just a single point by the 47th minute as back to back Dublin champions Crokes dug deep in search of a maiden title.
Goals from captain Caolan Conway and Alex Considine helped to haul the Stillorgan side back into contention but one point was as close as they got.
Eoin Kenneally’s 49th minute goal for All-Ireland title hopefuls Ballyhale – when his shot from the left wing dropped short and somehow found the net – settled them and went a long way to deciding the game.
Kilkenny great TJ Reid added two crucial points in the run in as the Shamrocks escaped with a three-point win.
They will take on Munster champions Ballygunner in a glamour All-Ireland semi-final on the weekend before Christmas, a repeat of last season’s final.
But Crokes will kick themselves for not finishing the job after that amazing comeback.
Crokes were boosted by the return of Considine following suspension and an early point from the Dublin attacker helped the underdogs to lead by 0-3 to 0-2.
But they then went 20 minutes – from the eighth to the 28th – without scoring and conceded 1-9 in that period, leaving them desperately chasing the game from there on.
Crokes struggled to make any inroads from their own puckouts initially, found the diagonal wind which was largely blowing against them difficult to deal with and looked in real trouble by the half-hour mark.
Ballyhale had struggled early on against Naas in the semi-finals but were clearly keen to hit the Dubliners hard and early this time and opened up a 1-11 to 0-3 lead after 27 minutes.
Colin Fennelly got that scoring blitz underway with an eighth minute point and pinched the 24th minute goal which came as such a hammer blow to Crokes.
TJ Reid, who struck 0-8 overall, was terrific in the buildup to the goal, fielding superbly and eventually allowing Fennelly to play the ball to Eoin Cody whose shot was blocked. It looked as if Crokes defender Robert O’Loughlin would clear to safety but Fennelly snuck in and flicked the ball cleverly to the net.
Ballyhale were already in a playful mood, spraying the ball around beautifully and one long, crossfield ball ended with Richie Reid thundering a point over from distance.
Adrian Mullen was influential too as Ballyhale hinted at another huge win to match last year’s six-goal mauling of Clough-Ballacolla.
Their 1-15 to 1-7 half-time lead didn’t flatter them and they pushed the margin out to 14 after the restart with scores from Paddy Mullen, Adrian Mullen and Niall Shortall.
Remarkably, they didn’t score again themselves for 11 minutes and this time it was Crokes who took full advantage, registering that 1-08 haul without response to turn a near lost cause into a proper contest again.
Conway netted in the 35th minute after being fed by Ronan Hayes while Fergal Whitely came strongly into the game and rising star Dara Purcell added a series of points.
When Considine then netted in the 47th minute, having gone close with an earlier goal attempt, the margin was down to just one, 1-19 to 2-15.
Joey Cuddihy responded with a Ballyhale point though and the killer score arrived shortly after when Kenneally’s ball in from the left wing slipped beyond the Crokes goalkeeper whose vision was perhaps obscured by Shamrocks man Shortall challenging for the high ball.
Considine had another half goal chance for the back to back Dublin champions but Ballyhale, despite dropping five point attempts short in the second-half, just about held on with Reid scoring their last two points of the game.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 0-8 (5fs), Colin Fennelly 1-3, Adrian Mullen 0-4, Eoin Kenneally 1-0, Eoin Cody 0-2, Niall Shortall 0-2, Richie Reid 0-1, Joey Cuddihy 0-1, Paddy Mullen 0-1.
Scorers for Kilmacud Crokes: Oisin O’Rorke 0-8 (0-6f, 0-1 65), Dara Purcell 0-5, Alex Considine 1-1, Caolan Conway 1-0, Fergal Whitely 0-2, Brian Hayes 0-1, Ronan Hayes 0-1, Micheal Roche 0-1.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Killian Corcoran, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen; Darragh Corcoran, Richie Reid, Evan Shefflin; Paddy Mullen, Adrian Mullen; Eoin Kenneally, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody; Niall Shortall, Colin Fennelly, Joey Cuddihy.
Kilmacud Crokes: Eddie Gibbons; Cian MacGabhann, Darragh Butler, Brian Sheehy; Robert O’Loughlin, Mark Grogan, Cian O Cathasaigh; Brian Hayes, Dara Purcell; Caolan Conway, Ronan Hayes, Fergal Whitely; Alex Considine, Micheal Roche, Oisin O’Rorke.
Subs: Brendan Scanlan for Conway 52, Bill O’Carroll for Grogan 54-58 blood, Sean Purcell for Roche 58.
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow).