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Thursday 13 December 2018

Classy Ballyhale spine a luxury very few clubs can boast

Return of Maguire a plus but Ballyboden are up against it

WINNING MENTALITY: TJ Reid in action for Ballyhale Shamrocks. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
WINNING MENTALITY: TJ Reid in action for Ballyhale Shamrocks. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Ballyboden have morphed in front of our eyes this year but this step, the last giant stride to a Leinster title, is significantly steeper than any other they have taken this year.

From Dublin SHC beaten dockets to champions in the space of a couple of weeks.

From provincial hopefuls to finalists via a couple of extra-time close-calls.

Joe Fortune's team can't say they're not well honed or road tested as they set out for Carlow tomorrow to complete a job that for some members of this team, began 11 years ago.

To recap:

The emergence of Luke Corcoran and Aidan Mellett in the Dublin SHC was the injection of energy and zip an ageing but still classy squad required after five years away from the county final.

The forceful excellence of Conal Keaney, Paul Ryan's sweet striking and the industry of Shane Durkin and Simon Lambert made them Dublin champions for a seventh time as they beat Kilmacud Crokes at the second attempt.

Assurance

Collie Basquel's emergence as a hurling forward of some finishing ability and no end of pace against Coolderry in the Leinster semi-final was the sort of unexpected lift a team like this occasionally requires to achieve something few outside their dressing room anticipated this year.

And tomorrow in Dr Cullen Park, Fortune has one of Dublin hurling's best players of the last 20 years, Gary Maguire, freshly returned from suspension, to add an air of calm assurance to the Boden defensive effort.

But what of Ballyhale Shamrocks?

Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

They are record Kilkenny SHC title winners (16), record Leinster SHC winners (eight) and record All-Ireland winners (six).

Yet according to their manager - one Henry Shefflin - "we weren't going to be anyone's favourites after the last few years" in this year's Killkenny SHC following four trophy-less seasons.

Shefflin was perhaps underplaying it a small bit.

"Ballyhale? Surprise winners in Kilkenny? Jaysus, he's a gas man!" laughs Eddie Brennan, Shefflin's old strike partner in the most feared attack in hurling history.

"Henry is getting skilled in the arts of deflection already!

"They won an Under-21 for the first time in a good while last year and it was an excellent win for a club like Ballyhale just when the rest of us in the county felt they were going to hit a little bit of a transition period with some senior guys moving on.

"They come along them and pinch an U21 title with a lot of young guys, so he has a nice bunch of talent in there.

"And you have TJ Reid, Michael Fennelly, Colm Fennelly and Joey Holden: three, six, 14, 11 - the backbone of your team.

Ropes

"What better way to show young lads the ropes?"

According to Brennan, it's not just the older, established players who can guide these newer players to big things but an inherent Ballyhale style that underpins everything they do.

"I have always admired Ballyhale and in particular their older team and how clever they all played together," Brennan says.

"You can see that in this team already, that it is just ingrained in them.

"They play so well together and there is such an understanding of each other's game.

"There is no doubt that they are coming again. Henry has done a good job.

"They might not have been expected to win that county final as soon because I think there was seven or eight of them playing in their first one.

"So it is probably a little bit worrying for everyone else, just when it looked as if the city clubs were going to start taking over again."

It's a point that Conal Keaney took up during the week, the notion that Ballyhale are somewhat diminished from the group that beat his Boden team by 12 points in the 2009 Leinster club semi-final.

"Well they're certainly not the team they were on paper from when we played them whatever, ten years ago. And all the big names they had then," Keaney outlined.

"But they certainly… if you look at their team down the middle, they'd get on any inter-county team.

"So they're nearly as strong there and they have young lads coming through who are very good.

"Nobody knows them know but in three or four years, they'll be household names. So they are very good.

"Any team that comes out of Kilkenny is very good."

Ballyboden have plenty of their own charms and with Mellett, Basquel and Niall McMorrrow all in situ, they possess more attacking energy and pace than they have in some time.

The issue is how they contain Ballyhale's big attacking two.

Prospect

After a quiet county final, Colin Fennelly hit 4-4 against Naomh Éanna in the Leinster semi-final while for all Lambert's influence in that pivotal centre-back role this year, marking a fully fit TJ Reid is another prospect entirely.

"We're just hoping we can get a performance," said Keaney this week.

"I don't think we've even really played for a full game.

"The last day we went up by six or seven points, we let them back into it and then went a few up and then let them back into it again.

"So we're just hoping to get it done in 60 minutes this time and get enough on the board."

A good start could change the dynamic here but it's harder to see Ballyboden winning enough of the key individual battles to finish as champions.

ODDS: Ballyboden 2/1, Draw 10/1, Ballyhale 4/9

VERDICT: Ballyhale

  • LEINSTER CLUB SHC FINAL, Ballyboden v Ballyhale, Dr Cullen Park (Tom, 2.0)

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