1. More TJ Reid heroics
COMETH THE HOUR, cometh the man.
Ballyhale Shamrocks were two points down with 30 seconds left on the clock when TJ Reid stood over a free from a tight angle outside the 21. Realising there might not be enough time to get another score, Reid went for broke.
His strike was pure, soaring through a forest of bodies to give the Kilkenny kingpins victory at the death. Only minutes earlier he struck home a penalty to bring Ballyhale back into the game when it was slipping from them.
It was an incredible intervention from a man who has performed more than his fair share of heroics for club and county over the last decade.
“I had only one option which was to strike the ball as hard as I could,” he told TG4 afterwards.
“I asked the referee how much was left and he said 30 seconds, so I just said to myself I’ll have to hit this as hard as I could. Lucky enough it went in.”
2. St Thomas’ heartbreak
To lose in such circumstances and have an All-Ireland final snatched from them was heartbreaking for St Thomas’. Despite winning the last four Galway titles, they were big underdogs coming into this game. The loss of Shane Cooney in the lead-in was a devastating blow, robbing them of one of their best defenders.
But they conjured up a stirring performance, showing the sort of form they tend to produce in Galway each year. Defensively, they were excellent, pulling off a number of last ditch blocks over the hour.
Fintan Burke was outstanding at the back, Bernard Burke and Eanna Burke were everywhere, hitting six from play between them, and Conor Cooney scored 10 frees and a sideline.
It’s of scant consolation to them, but St Thomas’ deserved to win this game and they can take great pride in their display.
St. Thomas’ Fintan Burke in disbelief after the game.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
3. Ballyhale underperformance
Aside from their Leinster final pummelling of Clough-Ballacolla, Ballyhale’s form has been somewhat patchy this season. They endured the fright of their lives in the Leinster semi-final against Offaly’s St Rynagh’s, snatching a draw in the dying seconds of the 60 minutes before prevailing in extra-time.
They were second-best for the long spells of the Kilkenny final, before pulling away from O’Loughlin Gaels with some attacking class in the final quarter. And Shamrocks would admit themselves they were below their best in Thurles today.
However, the hallmark of great champions is digging out results when they’re not playing particularly well. And Ballyhale are back in Croke Park, where they tend to show their best form.
4. Ballygunner’s first All-Ireland final
Ballygunner’s trip to the All-Ireland final was sealed with a goal at the beginning of either half by Billy O’Keeffe.
Coming into this game both the ‘Gunner and Slaughtneil were chasing a maiden appearance in the decider. Slaughtneil were defeated in their previous three semi-finals, while Ballygunner lost their last two.
“It’s very obvious, we lost the game in the first five minutes of each half,” said deflated Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane. “We went 1-2 down before we struck a ball in thew first-half, then conceded 1-1 at the start of the second half.
“It’s inexplicable, I don’t know. I’m not going to point fingers at anybody, but they were out of the blocks very quick and that 2-3 was the difference in the end. So we’re bitterly disappointed.
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“We’ve given it everything that we could do over the last ten weeks of training and very proud to have won another Derry and Ulster title.
“But this is where we wanted to be and we wanted to win today. We’ve had enough of glorious performances that ended in defeat and this is another one. We’re just very very down.”
Dessie Hutchinson celebrates after the game.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
5. Dream final pairing
Based just 30km apart, the final showdown between Ballygunner and Ballyhale Shamrocks is a mouthwatering tie. Many All-Ireland club hurling deciders in recent years have failed to live up to their billing, but this one should be box-office.
Both sides have dominated their respective county championships and are littered with inter-county talent. They play attacking styles that will be well-suited to Croke Park.
Ballyhale are chasing the All-Ireland three-in-a-row, while Ballygunner are hoping to land their first title.
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