Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-19
It was a cruel reversal of roles for Ballyhale Shamrocks on the biggest day of them all as a dramatic goal with the last puck of the ball from substitute Harry Ruddle saw Ballygunner become the first Waterford team to win the All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship and deny the Kilkenny side a record third straight title.
In control for the majority of what eventually became an exhilarating affair between two evenly matched sides and fierce rivals, Ballyhale Shamrocks were on the wrong side of a late goal that ended their hopes as the Kilkenny champions had done to St. Ryangh’s and St. Thomas’ en route to the decider.
The game began as so many others have, with a TJ Reid free under the shadow of the Cusack Stand, the perfect start for the All-Ireland champions but a fine point from play on the same side of the pitch from Reid’s opposite number Mikey Mahony was the best possible response from the Waterford side.
There was a an almost exact replica of the opening exchanges soon after as Mahony pointed from play following Reid’s second free of the day. The Shamrocks moved into the lead again after Mahony’s fine score as Colin Fennelly laid the ball off to the onrushing Adrian Mullen who made no mistake with his first effort of a tension-filled decider.
Ballygunner’s purposeful use of the left-hand side of the pitch came to fruition once more as they searched for an equaliser when star man Dessie Hutchinson excellently collected the ball before turning and finding the space to split the posts with his first chance of the game.
To the surprise of most in attendance, the opening quarter was not the spectacle that many expected as it became a war of attrition rather than one for the purists. Nevertheless, that did not stop the eight-in-a-row Waterford champions from flexing their muscles and moving into a two-point lead thanks to scores from play from Kevin Mahony and corner forward Billy O’Keeffe.
Two scores from distance from Darren Mullen and Evan Shefflin kept James O’Connor’s men in touch with their opponents and a fine point from 2020 and 2021 Young Hurler of the Year Eoin Cody edged them ahead for the fourth time after 20 minutes, Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-06 to 0-05 Ballygunner.
Key men for both club and county throughout the last decade, Pauric Mahony and TJ Reid exchanged two frees as the clock ticked towards half-time.
Crucially, Ballyhale Shamrocks’ lead was retained because of the wastefulness of the Ballygunner forwards with the wide count reading Ballygunner 6-0 Balyhale Shamrocks on the cusp of the break.
The ever-consistent Reid doubled his side’s lead with a remarkable score from play and his fourth point of the game, but neither side could pull ahead as the 2015 Hurler of the Year added to his individual tally with another free and Hutchinson’s movement proved too much to handle for the Shamrocks defence as he got his second point of the clash.
Far from a classic first half, but the south Kilkenny club were certainly the happier of the two teams at the interval, Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-10 to 0-07 Ballygunner.
Reid opened the scoring in the second half after he won the ball back in his own half before superbly putting the sliotar straight over the black spot as Ballygunner risked being cut adrift in a hugely important third quarter.
They stayed within touching distance, however, as Mikey Mahony continued to lead the charge and Pauric Mahony got his second free to reduce the margin to two points five minutes into the second half, Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-11 to 0-09 Ballygunner.
Billy O’Keeffe and Colin Fennelly pointed within twenty seconds of each other and free taker Mahony found his radar as he reduced the deficit to a single point before drawing the sides level for the first time in the second half with another free.
Both sets of supporters finally found their voices in the second half following a flat first half on the pitch and in the stands. TJ Reid, going in search of a record sixth club All-Ireland title, got his seventh point with another free to stem the Ballygunner tide.
Reid turned provider when he collected the ball from the puck out and found Joey Cuddihy who opened his account with a fine score.
The first key moment in the game came soon after Cuddihy’s point as substitute Eoin Reid followed up on Stephen O’Keeffe’s incredible save from Colin Fennelly to tap the ball into the empty net and in doing so moved Ballyhale Shamrocks one step closer towards a ninth All-Ireland title.
Two Pauric Mahony frees provided some respite for the Ballygunner men who were hoping to become the first Waterford club to win the All-Ireland as one goal separated the teams with fifteen minutes of normal time remaining, Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-14 to 0-14 Ballygunner.
Darragh Corcoran made it a two-score game after a brief stoppage due to injury but Dessie Hutchinson brought the game to life with a powerful strike straight into the top corner of the net in front of the Hill 16 Stand that left Dean Mason with no chance and gave Ballygunner a route back into the game.
That goal did not phase the Shamrocks however, as they showed immeasurable collective work rate to win the ball back from the puck out and Adrian Mullen eventually pointed from distance.
Man of the match TJ Reid scored another point with five minutes left on the clock as their economical use of possession proved to be decisive.
Richie Reid and Hutchinson both grabbed excellent points for their sides to keep three points between the sides before Kevin Mahony came to the fore again as he sneaked the ball over the bar to make it Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-18 to 1-16 Ballygunner with two minutes left in a breathless second half.
Corner forward Mahony made it a one-point game with yet another free but the Shamrocks’ unparalleled experience looked to have proved vital as Evan Shefflin got his second point of the encounter.
However, in what can only be described as the most dramatic of endings, substitute Harry Ruddle, whose impact on the game had been minimal at best since entering the fray, drove at the Ballyhale Shamrocks back-line before finding the bottom corner close to the ’45 with the last piece of action in a remarkable conclusion to a truly outstanding game of hurling.
For Ballygunner and their manager Darragh O’Sullivan, it was tears of joy on an emotionally fueled day, while for James O’Connor and his team, an incredible effort was not enough as they relinquish their All-Ireland crown in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.