The superbowl, the champions league final, the masters, in Kilkenny they all pale in comparison to county final day.
James Stephens and Shamrocks have a rabid fanbase and a rich history against each other. James Stephens had quite a few gripes against their opponents, faltering at the semi-final stage the last two years and losing the 2019 decider to the Shamrocks. Was this the day everything gets put right?
Amhrán na bhFiann rang out around UPMC Nowlan Park sung by Kevin Reid, as the crowd were raring to let out their inevitable roar at the end, the rain only adding to the drama. Then Conor Everard blew the whistle, and looked like he may have a job on his hands for the day as immediately shoulders and hits were thrown at each other.
Tadgh Dwyer registered the first point of the game by getting in front of Joey Holden, there was a doubt weather he would go for goal, but he understandably took the point. Joey Cuddihy hit Shamrocks first point, two minutes later from out on the left-hand side, swinging over the bar. James Stephens were hunting in packs, closing down, trying to force a mistake, creating an Eoin Guilfoyle chance which was blocked by Joey Holden. The workrate was phenomenal from TheVvillage but it is hard to close a man like TJ Reid down, who put the Shamrocks ahead. Five minutes gone and the intensity was clear to see, harrassing, blocking, hooking, the physicality can been seen even through the mist.
Colin Fennelly and Diarmuid Cody’s battle was the early battle that stood out, with Cody getting two frees from a frustrated Fennelly. Coming from one of those frees the resulting free the ball ended up with Niall Brassil who under tremendous pressure, on the sideline drew the game for the second time in the game, and it certainly did not seem like it would be the last time, it was neck and neck stuff. James Stephens were getting a lot of time and space on the ball which allowed them to ask a few questions, however, even though by ten minutes in they may have had three points, they would definitely lament their three wides. Were Shamrocks playing possum, allowing the Village to over-exert themselves? Time would tell. The Village were taking on Shamrocks, going at them, breaking the tackle, but was it just a case that Shamrocks were a bit shell shocked? There were many questions posed by both sides, with the pressure on the Shamrocks, evident by Eoin Cody being forced into a wide by three surrounding defenders, it was his first real impact on the game.
Ronan Corcoran made up for it though from 45 yards out, proving that for all the possession, if you don’t score, it doesn’t matter. Matthew Ruth can tell you that with a goal-scoring chance for James Stephens going a begging. Right after that, Eoin Kenneally went for the jugular on the other end after a long ball into the square, putting Cian Kenny and Diarmuid cody in two minds about whether to come for it, before the ball ultimately went wide. Willy Spencer brought it back level with 15 minutes gone, a point for a point. Adrian Mullen dummied on his left and hit the small ball on his right to put Shamrocks ahead once again. Typical Shamrocks, not being as fluid as they would like but still in front, clinical stuff. Tadgh Dwyer proved to be clinical himself as he took on the full back line of the Shamrocks before putting it over the bar from 14 yards out.
Then out of now,here there was a goal for the Village. The ball broke, Adrian Mullen slipped and Owen Guilfoyle had it in the back of the net! You could hear the Village supporters erupt as they started to believe the Tom Walsh Cup was going to be in their hands. TJ Reid looked to temper their expectations, by doing what TJ Reid does, replying with a point immediately. Reid then put over a free to make it a one-point game once again, after missing a goal chance to put them ahead.
Reid then had a solo from the 45-yard line, rolling back the years, skipping past players before getting their third score in a row, before Eoin Cody grabbed a point for himself, all of a sudden they were a point ahead. There was some brotherly love as TJ, going for his 11th title, found his brother Richie from across the field to make it a two-point game. All it took was for the Village to switch off for five minutes and they were punished.
Shamrocks were coming good, adding a bit of a distance between the teams with three minutes being added to normal time. There were another two scores registered from the five-in-a-row chasing Shamrocks, as their halfback line came into the game more. Niall Brassil finally broke their scoring stalemate to bring it back to a one score game. Has the steam run out of them from the blistering, intense start? They tore into the Shamrocks in the opening exchanges, would they be able to raise their game in the second half?
Half Time: James Stephens 1-05 Shamrocks 0-11
The Village came out swinging in the rain, as Andy Parsons got his first point, a much-needed score cutting the defecit to just two points. A wild Paddy Mullen pull brought about the first schmozzle of the game, with selectors getting involved. Conor Everard reached into his pocket and produced a red card which sent Mullen to the line. Shamrocks were down to 14 men, the fists started pumping from the Village players, was this the catalyst for the Village to grab their first county title in 11 years? If there was ever a chance this was it.
Shamrocks grabbed their first score after half time eight minutes in, to settle any nerves in Pat Hoban’s men. From the sideline, Joey Cuddihy swung on his left-hand side and made it a two-score game. The Village reacted straight away wa ith lovely vision from Niall Brassil to find Conor Browne making it 1-07 to 0-13 points. A goal for either side is going to be crucial but teams seem happy to go for points, a stark contrast to the first half as each side scuppered two goals chance.
Darren Mullen gave away a silly free, with Matthew Ruth at the 21 by the sideline, going nowhere. Niall Brassil put it over the bar from a difficult position, grabbing some much-needed consecutive points. Everything was to play for. Gavin Costigan, in the goal for James Stephens, cleared one off the line, before Cian Kenny swiped across TJ Reid. After finding his fingers Reid wa involved in the next two scores, two for himself in the form of a free and assisting Colin Fennelly with a magnificent ball.
They may have been reduced to 14 men but Shamrocks had only gotten better since the dismissal. The possible score of the match came from Shamrocks keeping possession, being composed on the ball before Evan Shefflin grabbed his first score of the game. This was followed by another Shamrocks point, as the Village appeared to not know what to do with the extra man. James Stephens needed a score badly with Niall Brassil duly delivering, but was it too little too late? It was 1-09 to 0-17 points, and with just ten minutes remaining, the mountain, despite the recent score, looked like it was only going to get steeper.
Enter Joey Cuddihy. With 52 minutes on the clock, Cuddihy basically dribbled the ball into the back of the net. James Stephens supporters certainly felt like it was all over and started heading for the exit. Niall Brassil made it a seven-point game, but Daragh Corcoran just went the other end and did the same. There was another reply from the Village after that but once again Colin Fennelly did the same. Eoin Cody also added points beside his name on 56 minutes.
Suddenly, out of the blue Conor Browne grabbed a goal, was there a chance? Was a late rally on the cards? James Stephens wouldn’t give up, then the familar rise in the commentators indicated there was another goal-scoring chance before the ball burst off the crossbar, Eoin Guilfoyle just missing out on what could have been a goal of the championship contender. That was the chance, but the chance went astray.
Niall Shortall, Kieran’s College man summed up the future of Ballyhale, 60 yards out from the goal , a dummy handpass and put it over the bar for the last score of the game.
Then the whistle blew. Shamrocks had done it. Five in a row for the first time in the history of Kilkenny GAA, in their 50th year, matching Tullaroan for 20 titles, a truly remarkable side, that will no doubt be aiming for provincial and ultimately All Ireland success.
Your winners of the 2022 St. Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny senior hurling championship and advance to the Leinster club championship next month, Ballyhale Shamrocks.