Ballyhale Shamrocks' star TJ Reid celebrates at Croke Park.
Ballyhale Shamrocks' star TJ Reid celebrates at Croke Park.

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC SF: Defiant Ballyhale win thriller

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final

Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-16 Ballygunner 0-16

By Cian O'Connell at Croke Park

Unsurprisingly a gripping game unfolded with Ballyhale Shamrocks doing enough to secure a memorable success at GAA headquarters.

Under the gleaming lights at the Jones Road venue Pat Hoban’s charges were primed for a battle, and the Shamrocks delivered with spirit, substance and style.

A remarkable display of goalkeeping from Stephen O’Keeffe repeatedly frustrated Ballyhale, who eventually found a way past the accomplished Ballygunner goalkeeper.

O’Keeffe had already saved a TJ Reid penalty, but the decorated Shamrocks was sufficiently crafty to blast a 49th minute major. In such a tight and tense encounter it was a critical moment.

It nudged Ballyhale four clear and Ballygunner simply couldn’t summon the response required. There was to be no late dramatic comeback on this occasion.

What happened in February ensured Ballyhale thundered into this contest in a first half that was all about little bursts.

Ballyhale rifled over three points on the spin early on, but by the 16th minute Ballygunner, with Dessie Hutchinson and Pauric Mahony sharp, had edged 0-7 to 0-5 ahead.

Another little cameo from Ballyhale yielded points from Adrian Mullen, Paddy Mullen, and Reid free as the opening period remained keenly contested. The quality was high too with Pauric Mahony and teenager Patrick Fitzgerald clipping gorgeous scores for Ballygunner.

O’Keeffe made two delightful saves to thwart Adrian Mullen in an action packed first half - underlining his goalkeeping class.

A couple of points on the cusp of half-time from Ronan Corcoran and Eoin Kenneally ensured the teams departed level at the interval, 0-11 each. Delicately poised it most certainly was.

When the action recommended scores weren’t arriving with the same regularity even though the standard and intensity was still providing entertainment.

Eight minutes after the break Pauric Mahnoy nailed a free, but Ballyhale replied courtesy of the influential Eoin Cody (2) and Reid. Colin Fennelly’s power and Reid’s poise was causing Ballygunner bother.

Hutchinson narrowed the gap to the minimum, 0-14 to 0-13 before O’Keeffe made a smart save from Evan Shefflin.

O’Keeffe subsequently stopped a 45th minute penalty from Reid, but Ballyhale, with trademark defiance, refused to be perturbed.

With 11 minutes left Reid made the Ballygunner net dance to guide Ballyhale 1-14 to 0-13 ahead.

At the opposite end Dean Mason denied Hutchinson before Reid steered over a free as the Shamrocks went five clear.

The Waterford and Munster champions struck three of the last four points, but it wasn’t enough. Fifty years in existence Ballyhale have always recovered following setbacks. Defeating gifted outfits is precisely what Ballyhale Shamrocks continue to do. Next month's All-Ireland decider against Dunloy should be interesting.

Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 1-8 (1-0 pen, 7fs, 165), Eoin Cody 0-2, Paddy Mullen, Ronan Corcoran, Adrian Mullen, Eoin Kenneally, Colin Fennelly, and Joey Cuddihy 0-1 each.

Scorers for Ballygunner: Pauric Mahony 0-6 (4fs), Dessie Hutchinson 0-4, Patrick Fitzgerald 0-2, Kevin Mahony, Ronan Power, Mikey Mahony, and Ronan Sheahan 0-1 each.

Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Killian Corcoran; Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran; Ronan Corcoran, Paddy Mullen; Adrian Mullen, TJ Reid, Eoin Cody; Eoin Kenneally, Colin Fennelly, Joey Cuddihy.

Subs: Brian Butler for D Mullen (6), Niall Shortall for Cuddihy (13), Conor Walsh for Kenneally (60+2).

Ballygunner: Stephen O’Keeffe; Ian Kenny, Barry Coughlan, Tadhg Foley; Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Ronan Power; Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavey; Peter Hogan, Pauric Mahony, Mikey Mahony; Patrick Fitzgerald, Dessie Hutchinson, Kevin Mahony.

Subs: Billy O’Keeffe for M Mahony (49), Harry Ruddle for Fitzgerald (55).

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).