Corner backs make the magic happen in Kilkenny hurling free-for-all
Ballyhale Shamrocks 3-19 O'Loughlin Gaels 3-15
The problem with Ballyhale Shamrocks is that they have you every way.
You stop one bullet and they'll find another. If you'd told Andy Comerford this morning that his O'Loughlin Gaels full-back line would only concede one point score to Colin Fennelly, Eoin Cody and Eoin Reid then he'd have probably laughed. He'd have smiled and surely he'd have thought to himself 'I'm about to become a county title winning manager here.'
But the brilliance of Ballyhale Shamrocks is their depth and the beauty for the four-in-a-row Kilkenny senior hurling champions is that they have match-winners in every corner. On a sun-kissed Sunday in November, their match-winners were Ronan Corcoran, Joe Cuddihy and Brian Butler.
Less-heralded yes, lesser-lights maybe, crucial cogs in the Ballyhale wheel, absolutely. A wise GAA person once said that the fella to watch is the fella you know nothing about and it was the men O'Loughlin Gaels knew nothing about that ripped their county championship dream away. Corcoran scored 0-3 from play and was man-of-the-match. In his first year on the team, Cuddihy scored 1-1 and hurled well but best 'til last, having defended resolutely all day, Brian Butler roved up the field for a finish to score a corker of a match-clinching goal. He's only a corner back but as we all know, they're a different proposition these days.
By that stage and with the Shamrocks out of sight, Comerford must surely have stopped to think to himself how can you prepare for something like that?
Ballyhale corner back Brian Butler showed all the composure of an inter-county corner forward to score the goal that won the Shamrocks their 19th Kilkenny titlepic.twitter.com/sZCrmOtXvm
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) November 7, 2021
This county final started at such a helter-skelter tempo that you were fully convinced the referee had swallowed his whistle. The hits and tackles and knocks were so fast and frenetic at that stage that before the clock had struck 5, the ref could easily have blown about ten times. Instead, he'd stopped the game twice, reluctantly, and up in the Nowlan Park stands, you could almost sense Brian Cody rubbing his hands with glee.
This was hard hurling, it was no-holds-barred and if you hadn't known before, you certainly knew now that playing senior hurling in Kilkenny is not for the faint-hearted.
Anthony Forristal is certainly not lacking in that department and when the O'Loughlin's big, burly and evergreen full back horsed Colin Fennelly out of it early on, it was like a shot in the arm for his fellow underdogs. From his lead, the brilliant Jordan Molloy and Cian Loy followed as they began to rattle their vaunted opponents.
Up the other end, with his fast footwork and snappy shooting, corner forward Owen Wall was causing no end of problems for the Ballyhale rearguard and his early goal had them believing. Alongside him, Paddy Deegan certainly believed. A corner back for his county, Deegan was like a calf let loose here as he ran riot up in the forwards. In between all the tackles and hits and the 2-4 from play he ended his with, you thought to yourself it's amazing how skilful you have to be to be a county corner back these days.
O'Loughlins kept their foot on the gas up to the break and were well deserving of their three point lead. But having gone for goal ten minutes into the second half when a point should have been taken, Joseph Cuddihy punished the town team with a goal that felt like a game-changer. When Adrian Mullen rattled the net again less than two minutes later, the Gaels would only have had to open their eyes again to know that this game had changed big-time now.
From there, TJ grew into it more and more. Corcoran made the ball talk, Butler did his thing and the referee never found his whistle. Deegan and O'Loughlins never gave up but this is Ballyhale's county.