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King Henry shows a trick or three as class Cats march on in Parnell Park parade

OUTSIDE the Parnell Park pavilion on Sunday, people were opening their match programme and looking at the Ballyhale Shamrocks team-sheet.

The names poured off the page - Holden, Fennelly, 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, Reid and the King himself.

"Sure, they'd give the Kilkenny team itself a game," said one gent.

And he wouldn't be far wrong.

The sun shone in Donnycarney to welcome the Kilkenny Cats for the AIB Leinster club hurling semi-final clash.

And any worry they had of catching the Leinster Express seven days after winning the county final was certainly unfounded.

They had the zip in the legs, and the spring in the timber.

Henry wore the number 11 jersey. A minute into the game, he clipped over the first point from wide on the right at the church end.

And as early as the fifth minute, he had a goal. Conor Walsh sent in a long delivery and Henry never took his eye off it.

He got the faintest of touches. It was enough. The net was dancing.

It was a goal from the DJ Carey songbook.

He was relishing the contest. He was chasing after the sliotar as if it was the last bus home from Nowlan Park.

He did a couple of little magical things.

And if a pass or a shot went astray, he was the first one to put up the hand.

He didn't shy away from the rough and tumble. The shoulders belong to Paul O'Connell.

The Dublin champions put in an honest shift, but the Ballyhale defence didn't give away a sausage.

The nearest the hosts came to a goal was when captain, Seán McGrath, saw his shot parried past the far post early in the second period.

"Ballyhale are a very strong side," remarked Sean's forward, colleague Oisín O'Rorke.

"They were the better team on the day, no question. They played very well.

"They were the third favourites for the All-Ireland, but I'd put them in now as favourites."

Still, overall, it was a fine year for the Stillorgan club, claiming their sixth Dublin crown and overcoming Rathdowney Errill of Laois in their opening Leinster assignment after extra-time.

"Winning the Dublin Championship was the aim at the start of the year, so Leinster was very much bonus territory," added Oisín. "But playing in Leinster will add to our experience, and we have to try and get back here and build on that now."

MASTER

Kilkenny are not the master craftsmen for nothing. It's the detail that counts. The small print.

So with the blinding sun shining into the stand in Donnycarney, the Ballyhale management positioned themselves on the far side of the ground in the shade.

And their clear view from in front of the terrace told them that TJ Reid was on the money.

He was converting frees from every part of the building. If he wanted to, he looked in the kind of form that could have landed the sliotar on the roof of Read's of Nassau Street.

He got Ballyhale's second goal from a free, the ball spinning through the traffic, and it helped them to lead at the interval by 2-9 to 0-6.

Yet, Crokes stuck at it.

And every morsel of promise was cheered in the grandstand.

They hit some neat points from play in the opening half.

They came from the sticks of the industrious Damien Kelly, Ryan O'Dwyer, Caolan Conway and Dillon Mulligan.

Mulligan added another point from play in the second period, as did Conway.

O'Dwyer's frees kept the cash register tingling, but Shamrocks always had a few spare shillings in the pocket.

Henry sent over his second point in the second half, and late on he was coming deep in search of the sliotar.

Up in the gantry, somebody said that this could be his last appearance in Parnell Park.

Maybe so. Who knows?

But a Croke Park St Patrick's Day appointment is not out of the question.

Shamrock is central to March 17 - could it could be Ballyhale's day?


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