I was only in Ballyhale once. Correction, I wasn’t actually there, I only passed through it on the way to Waterford. I remember looking out for the hurling field but, being honest, I can’t exactly remember spotting it. I was gone through the place before I knew it.
It’s hard to believe just how small the strongest and most successful hurling club in the world actually is. It’s hard to countenance that such a tiny outpost could produce so many generations of, not just great players, but all-time greats. But that’s what Ballyhale do. And winning All-Irelands is the primary currency in which they have always traded.
When you think of the great hurling clubs, they are instantly at the forefront of your mind – Birr, Portumna, Athenry, Blackrock, James Stephens. But then when you crunch and compare the numbers, none of them are anywhere near Ballyhale.
The Shamrocks have now more than double the number of All-Irelands that Birr and Portumna have, while they have the same number of All-Irelands as Athenry, Blackrock and the Village have combined. Blackrock were the first great hurling club, when winning three All-Irelands in the 1970s, but TJ Reid has now won double that haul. Incredible stuff.
They are just on a different level to every other club. All over social media last week, I saw photos of kids around Stillorgan wearing Kilmacud Crokes jerseys and waving banners and flags. An All-Ireland final appearance is always a special time for the schools but the kids in Ballyhale are so used to All-Ireland final day by now that you can imagine the attitude of the crew in fifth and sixth class. ‘Hi, get that job done, bring that cup back down here so we can all get homework off and maybe get a half day on Tuesday’.
This dynasty is so dynamic and dominant now that Ballyhale have carved and honed their almost mythical status even more through this generation of players. They are a unique bunch but, while they would also like to see themselves as different in Kilkenny, they remind me so much of the Brian Cody way in how they embody and espouse Cody’s principles and philosophy.
After the infamous handshakegate in Pearse Stadium last May with the exchange between Cody and Henry Shefflin, there was a lot of talk that the Ballyhale contingent weren’t pulling with Cody after he disrespected their greatest player and clubman. There had to have been some tension during the fallout but the Ballyhale crew were instrumental in driving Kilkenny to a Leinster title and an All-Ireland final afterwards.
The way in which Colin Fennelly spoke about the disrespect in Barry Coughlan’s All-Ireland winning speech last February provided another reminder of how Ballyhale will just do anything to win, of how they will search for an angle anywhere to give themselves an edge.
I even Googled the speech afterwards on YouTube to see what Barry actually said, to see how low he had actually dropped the blade. He basically said nothing, but it was vintage Ballyhale – and Kilkenny – in how they seek to turn anything into a cause. I saw that myself first hand with Dublin. Anytime we got one over on them – the 2011 league final, the 2013 Leinster semi-final replay – we paid for it big time in our next big meeting.
It was obvious from very early on yesterday that Ballyhale were on a mission of serious atonement after last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Ballygunner. Yet it was also evident early on that the Shamrocks were not going to get it their own way, or that this match was going to go the way most people expected it to.
Ballyhale showed their class and composure late on. When the heat really came on, they responded, but it took them an age to get out of third gear and the pitch made quality hurling a rarity. In the end though, they found the right gears.
Dunloy will be very disappointed because the chance was there for them. I remember Jamesie O’Connor writing once about Dublin that we played caveman hurling. I was annoyed initially but when I looked back on it, he was right. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to both sides but some of the stuff they played here was desperately poor – shots dropped short, cheap ball turned over, bad decision-making. Maybe a large part of that is down to conditions and maybe a little Ballyhale complacency but Gregory O’Kane will be even more disappointed considering Ballyhale could never get away from them.
Eoin McFerran did a brilliant job on TJ Reid but not enough of Dunloy’s big forwards performed. Ballyhale’s half back line eventually settled down, Richie Reid grew into the game and Ballyhale’s main men up front were ultimately the difference, especially Eoin Cody and Colin Fennelly.
They are an incredible club. The parish and club have been through a lot too over the last year, which makes this even sweeter again. When Dunloy left them on the pitch for a few minutes after half-time, the David Bowie song ‘Let’s Dance’ was playing over the loudspeakers.
It may have taken the Shamrocks a while to strut their stuff but when they had to, Ballyhale danced their way to another title.
#Anthony #Daly #Ballyhale #Shamrocks #level #club
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