Ballyhale break St Thomas' hearts
AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final
Ballyhale Shamrocks 2-15 St Thomas’ 0-20
By Shane Stapleton at FBD Semple Stadium
TJ Reid slammed a last-gasp 21-yard free to the net as Ballyhale Shamrocks broke St Thomas’ hearts at FBD Semple Stadium.
The Kilkenny kingpins, who are unbeaten in knockout championship hurling since October 15 2017, again found a way and will now meet Ballygunner in the final on February 12/13.
They trailled a gutsy St Thomas’ for the majority of the hour, until Reid was wrestled to the floor by Fintan Burke as Shamrocks launched one last attack.
It was goal or bust for the Kilkenny men, and Reid obliged with a ferocious shot. It took his personal tally to a game-winning 2-5, with his side now aiming to win a historic three-in-a-row of All-Ireland SHC club titles.
St Thomas’ wanted a fast start and they certainly got that as Eanna Burke scored two and won a converted free for another.
The Shamrocks were four in arrears before their magicians took out their wands. Reid knocked over his first, assisted Joey Cuddihy for two more, with Eoin Cody delighting the crowd in between.
The two-time Young Hurler of the Year got onto puckout breaks on either flank, and each time fired over while cruising in fifth gear.
With Davy Burke the extra man back dictating the play, St Thomas’ didn’t wilt. Conor Cooney fired over six placed balls in the opening half hour — including a marvellous sideline — while Eanna Burke put a total of four to his name.
The latter did brilliantly to fashion a goal opportunity when slipping past the Shamrocks cover on 20 minutes, but failed to finish a simple one-on-one chance after exchanging passes with Oisin Flannery.
After a half of wonderful scores on both sides, St Thomas’ held a 0-13 to 0-11 advantage, coping manfully in the absence of injured defender Shane Cooney.
The Shamrocks then immediately threatened to turn the game when Reid snapped a ball inside the ‘14, but a crucial Bernard Burke hook prevented a certain goal.
The Galway men instead widened the gapen to four as Darragh Burke and Cooney (free) raised white flags.
Former Galway star James Regan thundered into the game as the Kilkenny champions missed four attempts in a row to fall behind by four.
It was a huge test of a Shamrocks side that had replaced both corner-backs due to injury, and who also came into the game without injured midfielder Ronan Corcoran.
Patrick Mullen opened his account on 47 minutes, the sides then traded frees, before Shamrocks got their first major.
Darragh Corcoran burst through the defence and fed Colin Fennelly, with the latter upended by John Headd inside the ‘14.
Reid found the net with the minimum of fuss to level the game on 57 minutes, and yet still Thomas’ kept coming forward.
Two Cooney frees in injury time seemed to have won the game, giving them revenge for the 17-point All-Ireland final defeat three years ago, before Reid thrust the dagger in at the final moment.
Scorers for Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 2-5 (1-0 pen; 1-3 frees); Eoin Cody 0-4; Joey Cuddihy 0-3; Colin Fennelly, Patrick Mullen, Adrian Mullen 0-1 each
Scorers for St Thomas’: Conor Cooney 0-11 (0-10 frees, 0-1 s/l); Eanna Burke 0-4; Bernard Burke 0-2; Darragh Burke, Brendan Farrell, James Regan 0-1 each
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Kevin Mullen; Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Darragh Corcoran; Conor Phelan, Patrick Mullen; Adrian Mullen, Eoin Cody, Brian Cody; Joey Cuddihy, Colin Fennelly, TJ Reid Subs: Eoin Kenneally for Phelan (30+2); Brian Butler for K Mullen (43); Conor Walsh for D Mullen (55); Eoin Reid for Kenneally (57)
St Thomas’: Gerald Kelly, Cian Mahony, Fintan Burke, David Sherry; John Headd, David Burke, Cathal Burke; Evan Duggan, Bernard Burke; Eanna Burke, Conor Cooney, James Regan; Oisin Flannery, Darragh Burke, Brendan Farrell. Subs: Victor Manso for Farrell (47); Mark Caulfield for Duggan (57)
Referee: Rory McGann (Clare)