Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-27
Write them off at your peril.
Ballyhale Shamrocks are once again in the St. Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling Championship semi-final following an impressive showing against Bennettsbridge on Sunday afternoon at UPMC Nowlan Park.
It was Ballyhale Shamrocks who set the tempo early in the game as they looked to blitz a Bennettsbridge side who were in a frenzy due to the intensity that the county champions brought in the opening ten minutes.
Colin Fennelly (2), Liam Barron, and Eoin Cody all got excellent scores from play as they reaped the rewards of wonderful supply from further out the pitch. A TJ Reid free was the fifth of those early cluster of points while Ciarán Brennan was the sole scorer for Bennettsbridge. The Shamrocks had raced into a four-point lead, 0-05 to 0-01.
A lesser team may have buckled under the pressure of trailing so soon after the throw-in to one of the greatest club teams to ever grace UPMC Nowlan Park. But Bennettsbridge showed exactly why they are considered by many to be at least ‘the best of the rest’ on Noreside.
Two Nicky Cleere frees along with a well-taken score from William Murphy left one-point between the teams at the water break, Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-05 to 0-04 Bennettsbridge.
Ciarán Brennan notched on his second of the game to level the game at the beginning of the second quarter before Jason Cleere found the net after some loose defending from the Shamrocks from a long free that was dropped in. Cleere gathered possession and his shot found a way past Shamrocks’ goalkeeper Dean Mason.
Joe Cuddihy (2) and Eoin Cody responded to that goal for the three-in-a-row champions. Ciarán Brennan, being deployed as a corner forward and a constant threat throughout the first half, pointed from close-range for his third point of the game to give the league champions a 1-07 to 0-08 lead after 20 minutes.
However, the Shamrocks grew as the half went on with one of the players of the championship Cuddihy (2) and the unusually quiet but always dangerous TJ Reid moving them back into a one-point lead.
Seán Morrissey (2) and Kevin Blanchfield both got on the scoresheet late in the first half to edge Tim Dooley’s men in front once more but points from play from two of the best forwards in the country, Eoin Cody and TJ Reid, meant the teams could not be separated at the interval, Bennettsbridge 1-10 to 0-13 Ballyhale Shamrocks.
It was the third quarter where this game was won and lost.
The Shamrocks somehow managed to score three points inside the first minute of the second through 2020 Young Hurler of the Year Cody (2) and midfielder Ronan Corcoran.
They are champions for a reason and Ballyhale Shamrocks never looked back from that point onwards as they ruthlessly added point-after-point to give themselves a seven-point lead at the water break, the biggest gap between the sides at that stage of the game.
Despite gaining some respite thanks to Nicky Cleere frees (2), a Reid free in between those Cleere efforts in addition to five unanswered scores from Reid (2), Liam Barron, Brian Cody and Eoin Cody respectively, left the scoreboard reading 0-22 to 1-12 midway through the second half.
There would be no late revival from Bennettsbridge. Three points in the opening 25 minutes of the second half, all from Cleere frees, were never going to be enough against a team as proficient and well-rounded as the Shamrocks.
Full forward Colin Fennelly and Cleere exchanged points as the game resumed following the brief break. The Shamrocks game management was superb as the clocked ticked ever closer to full-time.
Reid and newly assigned free-taker Kevin Brennan both made no mistake from dead ball situations towards the end of an encounter that petered out as a result of the Shamrocks pulling away from their opponents.
It was not until the 56th minute until Bennettsbridge finally got off the mark from play with a fine score from substitute Hugh O’Neill. It would be their only score from play in the second half.
Their inability to give a platform for their forwards to prosper and thrive similar to that of the opposition proving the difference in the second half.
A late free from the classy Reid from within his own half and two beautifully struck shots from Ronan Corcoran that split the posts gave James O’Connor’s side revenge for their defeat to Bennettsbridge in the league.
More importantly, they advance to the semi-finals, two victories away from a historic fourth consecutive county championship.
For Bennettsbridge, a season full of potential and promise comes to an abrupt end in deflating fashion.