AIB Leinster Club SHC Final: Ballyhale retain title
AIB Leinster Club SHC Final
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS (KILKENNY) 1-21 ST MULLINS (CARLOW) 0-15
By Paul Keane at MW Hire O'Moore Park
A day after his first competitive game in charge of Offaly, Kilkenny great Michael Fennelly captained Ballyhale Shamrocks to a record 10th AIB Leinster club title in Portlaoise.
Younger brother Colin struck the game's only goal in the 32nd minute, opening up a seven-point lead that the All-Ireland holders never dipped below afterwards in a controlled and ultra efficient display.
Eoin Cody and Brian Cody, along with Adrian Mullen and free-taker TJ Reid also weighed in with important scores as the Kilkenny side continue to surge forward under Henry Shefflin.
Their reward, aside from adding to their provincial haul, is an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Ulster champions Slaughtneil on the first weekend of January.
The only negative for skipper Fennelly on a memorable day was his injury-time dismissal for a second booking.
Aside from that it was all positive for the All-Ireland favourites who dug so deep to overcome a battling St Mullins side competing in their first ever final.
St Mullins spoke in the buildup of taking the game in increments, of trying to start well, be there at half-time and have a fighting chance of victory entering the final quarter.
For the most part they stuck to that script and Ballyhale had to dig so deep just to lead by four points at half-time, 0-11 to 0-7.
St Mullins actually led by two points after 12 minutes with the south Carlow club displaying the full range of their abilities.
Leading scorer Marty Kavanagh, who sniped 0-12, converted three early frees before booming a beauty over from play while Jason O'Neill cut an exquisite line ball over from the left wing.
Ballyhale, slow to the boil initially, suddenly burst into life with five points in a row to open up a three-point lead.
But they earned each one of those scores the hard way, battling so hard to engineer the openings that allowed TJ Reid, Eoin Reid and Brian Cody to capitalise.
Their ninth score in the 26th minute, moving Ballyhale 0-9 to 0-6 ahead, summed up the nature of a hugely intense contest.
Conor Phelan registered that score for Ballyhale but only after St Mullins had fought tooth and nail to deny both TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen in the buildup.
James Doyle, the St Mullins match-winner in the semi-final with two late points against Rathdowney-Errill, was denied with a goal chance just before half-time.
The county man was intent on hitting the net and tore through on goal again 90 seconds into the second-half but this time his volleyed effort hit the post and went wide.
It was the game's turning point because from the puck-out Ballyhale worked a move that ended in TJ Reid passing to Colin Fennelly to score the opening goal. Moments later, Eoin Cody added a point and then TJ Reid struck a free and suddenly the holders were nine points ahead.
That was the margin they ultimately won by as Ballyhale went through the motions with a businesslike performance in the closing stages to make sure the result was never in doubt.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 0-9 (8fs), Colin Fennelly 1-0, Brian Cody 0-3, Adrian Mullen 0-3, Eoin Cody 0-2, Eoin Reid 0-1, Evan Shefflin 0-1, Conor Phelan 0-1, Mark Aywlard 0-1.
Scorers for St Mullins: Marty Kavanagh 0-12 (8fs, 165), Jason O'Neill 0-2 (s/l), James Doyle 0-1.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: Dean Mason; Brian Butler, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen; Evan Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Darragh Corcoran; Ronan Corcoran, Conor Phelan; Brian Cody, TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen; Eoin Reid, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Cody.
Subs: Joey Cuddihy for Eoin Reid (43), Conor Walsh for Phelan (46), Gavin Butler for Darragh Cororan (55), Mark Aylward for Eoin Cody (57), Jason Devereux for Brian Cody (61).
ST MULLINS: Kevin Kehoe; Garry Bennett, Paul Doyle, John Doran; Gerard Coady, Michael Walsh, Christopher Kavanagh; Oisin Boland, Jack Kavanagh; Seamus Murphy, Marty Kavanagh, James Doyle; Paidi O Se, Patrick Boland, Jason O'Neill.
Subs: Patrick Walsh for Jack Kavanagh (50), Philip Connors for Boland (55), John Murphy for Christopher Kavanagh (57), Oisin Ryan for Bennett (57), Paul Kehoe for O'Neill (60).
REFEREE: Sean Stack (Dublin).