Slick Shamrocks spoil the Gorey party
AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship semi-final: Ballyhale Shamrocks 6-21 Naomh Eanna 4-11
Naomh Eanna got a glimpse up close and personal of the level they will surely aspire to reach themselves in the coming years as they were clinically brushed aside by a rampant Ballyhale Shamrocks in the AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship semi-final in sunny Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
The underdogs got off to a perfect start as two cracking goals from star man Cathal Dunbar left them clear by 2-1 to 0-1 after eight minutes, but the experienced Kilkenny crew didn't panic and had the game effectively won by half-time when they led by 2-9 to 2-6 with wind advantage still to come.
All bar one point of that haul had arrived from play which was an ominous sign for a Naomh Eanna side already minus three defenders, with the suspended duo of Peter Travers and Eoin Molloy missing out once more while one of their replacements, Lee Kinsella, was forced off with an injury after 21 minutes.
And that second-half belonged to rampant Shamrocks full-forward Colin Fennelly who did as he pleased from the moment he picked off a sublime point from close to the right sideline after a wonderful piece of control in the 33rd minute.
With a goal already to his name at that stage, he followed with a tremendous 3-3 to end the contest with a phenomenal 4-4 tally as Shamrocks advanced comfortably to a final clash with Ballyboden St. Enda's on December 2.
Naomh Eanna were generally outclassed but never stopped trying, and that resulted in a couple of consolation goals and a scoring total of 4-11 that would comfortably win a lot of hurling games.
Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly enough this time around, and the 16-point margin at the finish represented the heaviest defeat for a Wexford team since this championship started in 1971.
It says a lot about the quality of this Shamrocks side when one considers that star man T.J. Reid was relatively quiet by his own high standards, although he still picked off four first-half points from play.
Their attack was lethal as a unit, with all six scoring as the Cody brothers, Adrian Mullen and Eoin Reid stepped up on a day when Naomh Eanna simply couldn't live with the opposition.
Their one shining light was Cathal Dunbar whose blinding pace and instinct to seek goals at every opportunity posed endless problems for direct marker Darren Mullen, and his 2-3 tally was fitting recognition for a fine talent who will surely be seen in the Wexford starting 15 in 2019.
Jack Cullen was another to catch the eye, bursting forward from left half-back to score an impressive 1-2 from play, while corner-back Eoin Conroy and centre-forward Pádraig Doyle also had their moments.
Conor McDonald never got into the game though and, while the service wasn't always of a high standard, he simply couldn't get the better of Joey Holden, nor of Michael Fennelly after his move to the '40.
The view that this Shamrocks team might have been vulnerable after falling over the line in the county semi-final against Erin's Own (Castlecomer) was blown emphatically out of the water, although not before Naomh Eanna gave them an early scare.
T.J. Reid registered the opening point from a Colin Fennelly pass, before Darragh Hughes hit the first two of Gorey's eleven wides from long-range frees on either side of the field.
Shamrocks, who had won the toss and opted to face the wind first, were rocked when David O'Brien did well to dispossess a defender before Conor McDonald's delivery sat up invitingly for Cathal Dunbar who pulled first-time to the Clonard end net.
Pádraig Doyle added a fine point from 65 metres from an Eoin Conroy handpass, shortly after being lucky to avoid injury when he went flying into the gravel track beside the pitch hoardings under the main stand.
Dean Mason made a mess of the puck-out that followed, and that was seized upon with glee by Dunbar who hared forward before drilling a low shot to the net and creating a 2-1 to 0-1 lead.
Lesser teams might have folded, but Shamrocks have been around the block long enough to realise that games aren't won or lost in the first eight minutes.
The message from the sideline seemed to highlight the need to pick off some points to settle the team, and T.J. Reid ('65), Adrian Mullen and Reid (play) duly obliged before Pádraig Doyle made it 2-2 to 0-4 in the 13th minute from a free.
The low-lying sun played a part in the goal that took some of the wind out of Gorey's sails 40 seconds later, as netminder Barry Kinsella appeared to lose the flight of a delivery from the left by Eoin Cody, leaving Eoin Reid to pounce on the mistake and rattle the net.
Jack Cullen did respond with a point after good work by Charlie McGuckin, only for Shamrocks to take the lead in the 18th minute when an Evan Shefflin clearance broke kindly for Colin Fennelly who bore down on goal and gave Kinsella no chance (2-4 to 2-3).
Although Naomh Eanna remained competitive up to half-time, they never regained the lead or even drew level, with Shamrocks always having something in reserve to respond to points from Pádraig Doyle ('65 and free) plus Cathal Dunbar.
Brian Cody, nephew of manager Henry Shefflin, hit a brace before T.J. Reid added the last two of the half, leaving the favourites with an interval lead of 2-9 to 2-6.
In reality, anything other than a Shamrocks win was impossible to envisage at that stage, and so it proved.
Colin Fennelly almost netted 31 seconds into the re-start from an Adrian Mullen cross from the right corner, but his low shot flew across the goalmouth and wide.
He quickly atoned with a beautiful point after killing the ball with his outstretched hurl, although Jack Cullen responded when an astute crossfield pass by Pádraig Doyle located him in ample space.
Just 95 seconds later, the game was well and truly over after Fennelly completed his hat-trick and showed his ruthless streak in the process.
His second goal arrived when he latched on to a long free and fired home off his left, and teamwork at its very best was rewarded with another green flag just 45 seconds later.
Eoin Cody played a crossfield pass to Eoin Reid who flicked it on swiftly to Fennelly, and there was no way he was going to be stopped from such close range (4-10 to 2-7).
Points followed from Cody and Adrian Mullen (two) before the former pounced on a defensive error to claim the fifth Shamrocks goal in the 42nd minute and extend their advantage to 15 points.
With the outcome a foregone conclusion, the hurling became loose and disjointed, with precious little attention paid to marking duties or positions.
It did lead to a string of scores, with Naomh Eanna pulling a goal back when Aodhán Doyle played a neat ball into space down the left flank for Jack Cullen to gather possession on the run and fire low to Dean Mason's net (5-13 to 3-7).
Four of the next six points went to Shamrocks, with Colin Fennelly (two), T.J. Reid (free) and wing-back Evan Shefflin on target while Pádraig Doyle (free) and Cathal Dunbar replied.
The winners' sixth goal was an ample illustration of how Kilkenny teams play like cold-hearted assassins even when they have the hard work done.
Instead of tapping over a handy free, T.J. Reid played it short to his right to an unmarked Colin Fennelly who promptly stitched it high into the roof of the net for his fourth goal (6-17 to 3-9).
Richie Reid, Darren Mullen, Fennelly and substitute Joey Cuddihy completed their scoring, while the excellent Cathal Dunbar hit another point and Pádraig Doyle followed suit for Gorey.
They also grabbed a fourth goal in added time when Conor McDonald was fouled after collecting an Aodhán Doyle delivery, with the number 14 ending his scoring drought by planting the penalty in the net.
Ballyhale Shamrocks, holders of a record eight provincial titles already, will now seek a first since the 2014 success against Kilcormac-Killoughey from Offaly when they face a Ballyboden St. Enda's side managed by Enniscorthy native Joe Fortune, and with ex-Gorey and Wexford stalwart Malachy Travers on their squad.
As for Naomh Eanna, they have the entire month of December to celebrate the club's many wonderful achievements this year, and they thoroughly deserve it.
After winning a first-ever county Senior hurling title, and also beating Camross on their Leinster debut, nobody can take those achievements away from them, and there is a sense that they will only get better with such youthful enthusiasm flowing through their ranks.
If the lessons from this heavy defeat are taken on board, they will be a lot better equipped to tackle the provincial championship if they get another opportunity, although the remaining Wexford clubs will be lining up in an attempt to knock them off their pedestal first.
For the moment, they should savour their successes from this magical year.
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Eoin Conroy, Brendan Travers (capt.), Tom Stafford; Lee Kinsella, Seán Doyle, Jack Cullen (1-2); Aodhán Doyle, Gary Molloy; Darragh Hughes, Pádraig Doyle (0-6, 3 frees, 1 '65), Charlie McGuckin; Cathal Dunbar (2-3), Conor McDonald (1-0 pen.), David O'Brien. Subs. - Jack Cushe for L. Kinsella, inj. (21), William Cullen for Hughes (38), Conor Hughes for O'Brien (45).
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Brian Butler, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen (0-1); Evan Shefflin (0-1), Michael Fennelly (capt.), Richie Reid (0-1); Ronan Corcoran (0-1), Conor Walsh; Adrian Mullen (0-3), T.J. Reid (0-6, 1 '65, 1 free), Brian Cody (0-2); Eoin Reid (1-0), Colin Fennelly (4-4), Eoin Cody (1-1). Subs. - Gavin Butler for Walsh, inj. (49), Mark Aylward for E. Reid (49), Joey Cuddihy (0-1) for A. Mullen (54), Kevin Mullen for Butler (56), Paddy Mullen for M. Fennelly (58).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).