The AIB GAA Junior, Intermediate and Senior Club Hurling Championships have culminated for another season, with the Senior final between Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny and Dunloy Cúchulainns of Antrim wrapping up the trio of deciders on January 22nd.
The Junior and Intermediate finals were played in a double-header in Croke Park on January 14th. Ballygiblin of Cork played Easkey of Sligo in the opening Junior final, with Ballygiblin seeking redemption after defeat to Mooncoin in last year’s final.
This year the result was never in doubt, however, as the Cork team led from the start of the match to crush Easkey’s hope of a first-ever All-Ireland Junior title. A dominant performance from Ballygiblin’s backs played a huge role, as did the rapidity and ease with which they scored – their first score, a goal, was taken with only eight seconds on the clock. A composed thirty minutes followed, during which they stretched their lead out to five points. After the restart, Easkey failed to get within less than two points of Ballygiblin’s lead, and by the final whistle the Cork side were deserving winners on a scoreline of 1-16 to 0-11.
The Intermediate final was a thrilling battle, with Monaleen of Limerick facing Tooreen of Mayo in the second match of the afternoon. Tooreen drew first blood and maintained a lead until the 54th minute, with the first half a tight affair which saw Monaleen stay in contention though sheer work rate, netting an excellent goal near the end of the first quarter against the run of play to draw the sides back level. Skill and composure saw the teams take to the dressing rooms at half-time, however, with Tooreen up by two points – 1-09 to 1-07.
Tooreen’s edge continued into the second half, with them maintaining a lead until the dying minutes. Tiredness began to show as Monaleen’s Donnacha Ó’Dálaigh ran rampant after being moved in full-forward, putting five points over. Championship top scorer Mark O’Dwyer also put in a superb effort for the Limerick side, taking the score to bring the sides back level before Ó’Dalaigh saw it out, with the scoreboard reading 1-17 to 1-15 at full-time, making Monaleen the first Limerick team to win the Intermediate All-Ireland Championship.
Excessive use of Croke Park over the winter season contributed to the unfortunate state of the pitch on January 18th as the Senior final was played, with multiple media outlets commenting on the poor condition of the organisation’s flagship location.
“A hamstring injury to Adrian Mullen ruled the Kilkenny star out of the final, perceived as a possibly debilitating blow to Ballyhale’s attack.”
A hamstring injury to Adrian Mullen ruled the Kilkenny star out of the final, perceived as a possibly debilitating blow to Ballyhale’s attack. The loss of a regular starter meant very little to Pat Hoban’s side in the early stages, however, as the first score went to the men in green and white via a Joey Cuddihy point.
Dunloy’s rebound was the stuff of dreams, with wing-forward Ronan Molloy firing a goal into the Ballyhale net. The game took on an attritional style for the following minutes, with the teams trading blows to leave the scoreline at 1-01 to 0-04 after ten minutes of play.
The remainder of the first half was twenty minutes of ebbs and flows, as each team got on top before the other team scrapped their way back into contention. Player of the Match Eoin Cody’s goal sent Ballyhale two points up, before Dunloy sent over a free and another point from play to take it back level. Ballyhale reacted characteristically, and a few fast and furious passages of play saw them stretch out to a four-point lead. Dunloy dug their heels in, however, and thanks to Seán Elliot and freetaker Conal Cunning headed for the changing rooms at half-time with the scoreline reading 1-09 to 1-07 in favour of Ballyhale.
The second half opened in a similar fashion, with neither team able to open up and assert themselves as comfortable leaders. TJ Reid for Ballyhale and Cunning for Dunloy remained sharp on the frees, with scores from placed balls remaining absolutely crucial to keep both teams in it as conditions deteriorated slightly. However, Dunloy were never able to get closer than one point short of Ballyhale’s score, and with ten minutes to play the Kilkenny team led by 1-14 to 1-13.
On the scoreboard it looked as though it was still all to play for, but in traditional Shamrocks fashion, Dunloy were unable to cope with their pace in the closing stages. Ballyhale dominated the final minutes with ease, eventually running out comfortable winners at 1-22 to 1-15. Dunloy were unlucky to run out with such a disappointing final score, which wasn’t an accurate reflection of the close nature of the opening 50 minutes.
It was, however, an accurate reflection of Ballyhale’s utter dominance of the club scene, who never looked uncomfortable, however close Dunloy cut their lead. The question remains, therefore, as to who will even be able to challenge them for the Tommy Moore Cup in the 2023/24 season.