A ninth All Ireland title was on the line for Ballyhale Shamrocks, a chance to create even more history for the Leinster champions. Meanwhile Dunloy Cuchullains ripped up script to beat St Thomas’ and secure their fifth All Ireland final, can they shock the GAA community again, there is no doubt about it that they surely can. Dunloy have landed four Antrim titles in consecutive years, clearly no pushovers from the ever improving county.
TJ reid had the opportunity to get the first score but an unlikely 65 dropped short before the ball found its way to Joey Cuddihy to be the first name down on the scoresheet. Showing they were no pushovers, in a case of anything you can do we can do better. Keelan Molloy combined with Ronan Molly, a brilliant hand pass allowing Dunloy to break the lines and Ronan buried it low, leaving Dean Mason no chance. Game on! Another high ball into Colin Fennelly allowed Shamrocks to get another one over the bar, before TJ Reid sliced it off the bottom of his stick, over in left half forward position to draw the game.
After a blistering start though, the next five minutes was a lot more cagey with both sides making mistakes. TJ Reid made up for his previously missed ’65 to take the lead with before Eoin Cody forced Ryan Elliot into a save, with Pat Hoban’s men testing the keeper for the first real half chance. Captain Paul Shields got us level in Croke Park bang on the 12 minute mark, some lovely control of the ball on the stick followed up by a point from play by Oran Quinn. Shamrocks seem to be sending scud missiles into Colin Fennelly, which is unlike the assured Shamrocks, no doubt the game-plan being to use their distinctive height advantage.
It worked though eventually with Fennelly battling, taking the ball out of the air. Dunloy had a few chances to clear but were punished for some costly mistakes by Eoin Cody who tapped it passed the Dunloy shot stopper. There was a lot of confusion as to it was indeed a goal, but the scoreboard changed in Croker so the lead was firmly established. Dunloy responded perfectly though, a point from a free at the hands of Conal Cunning before Nicky McKeague got one from play.
There was great work from Evan Shefflin, proving he is key to the defensive responsibilities of the Kilkenny Champions, finding Eoin Cody with the chance to put it over his shoulder and separate the side by a single point. Shefflin then showed his attacking prowess by contributing to his team efforts with a point before Eoin Cody broke from two men to put three points between the sides for the first time at 1-07 to 1-04. Did not take long for Dunloy to bring themselves back in touch though, as Conal Cunning forced the umpire to pick up the white flag from a successful 65′ to stop the ascendency after three unanswered scores.
Ryan Elliot was forced into action once again, denying Eoin Cody his second goal. However quickfire points from himself and TJ Reid nearly made up for the miss. There were more big chances for Ballyhale, a third goal chance came and went. Colin Fennelly marched thru the Dunloy defence before hand passing it off to Niall Shortall, unfortunately for him he lost his balance, and nothing came for it. Shamrocks were obviously looking to go for the juggler before half time. As half time was indeed looming, Dunloy dug deep to grab two for themselves with Seann Elliot and Conal Cunning doing well from the dead ball situation. Shamrocks certainly were not having it their own way, its been an entertaining possession based game and we were hoping for more of the same in the second half.
Just like the first half, TJ Reid had the first chance of the half from a 65′ and you can rest assured he opened the scoring. The second half continued the same vein of form with each side going point for point, no dominance established by either team. After five minutes of trading scores it was 1-13 to 1-11. Conal Cunning stopped that trend though as putting over a free just after Keelan Molly got himself a score capitalised on a Shamrocks mistake. Only one point in it now, with Dunloy showing huge belief.
TJ put over his fifth free of the day on the 46th minute, but two points separating the sides is not a score that the five in a row Kilkenny champions would want. Memories of Ballygunner last year in the crescendo of the All Ireland series ringing in their mind. Two points then turned to a one point gap as point from play Ronan Molloy raised a level of concern amongst the green and white support in Croke Park. Shamrocks seemed on the on the ropes before Eoin Cody stepped up to bang it over the bar. Immediately followed by Paddy Mullen and Cillian Corcoran, in his first All Ireland final, finally made it a two score game at 1-17 to 1-13.
Colin Fennelly, a name synonymous with Shamrocks put an extra cushion on the scoreline before Paul Shields, from the middle of the park, sailed one over the bar. As good of a score that was, a goal was certainly needed with two minutes of normal time remaining. He shut this writer up though, as Conal Cunning burst over a free, leaving only a goal being needed to bring the game to extra time. That was until Ballyhale’s Eoin Cody, stepped up once again to set a four point gap between the teams. Captain Ronan Corcoran, Brian Cody and Darragh Corcoran compounded the misery, any doubt evaporated.
With the end of full time Ballyhale Shamrocks were crowned 2023 All-Ireland Hurling Club Champions.