Last Sunday in Killeedy in Co.Limerick another chapter was written into the history books of Shanballymore GAA club. At approximately 3.25pm and the score board reading Shanballymore 0-14 Eire Og Annacarty 1-9 referee Anthony Costigan from Laois blew the full time whistle and we were crowned Munster champions after a titanic battle against Tipperary champions Eire Og Annacarty Donohill.
The celebrations that followed on the field between players mentors and supporters alike really summed up what this massive achievement means to everybody involved in Shanballymore GAA. To win any final is a massive achievement for a club and claiming the county title against Bantry Blue’s last July in Pairc Ui Rinn and the North Cork title in September against Killavullan were special moments but this Munster final win tops off what has been a roller coaster last 13 months for Shanballymore GAA club.
Starting off last January 2015 the main aim for the club was to win a north Cork hurling championship title and also have a good run in the county championship and go a step further then the 2014 semifinal loss and contest the final in Pairc Ui Rinn. We have not only achieved this but we now lay claim to being Munster champions and for a club and community like Shanballymore to be getting ready for an All Ireland semifinal it really is the stuff of dreams.
Last Sunday in Killeedy it was a bitterly cold day but that did not deter the massive following of Shanballymore supporters from turning out in their hundreds to cheer on the team to victory. The sea of black and red colour on the Killeedy field afterwards had to be seen to be believed and the delight and happiness on every Shanballymore supporters face was a joy to see.
It was fantastic to see ex players from the glorious winning teams of the 1951 intermediate title, the 1965 Novice title, the 1983 Novice title and the 1996/97 double winners joining in the celebrations afterwards. Our club president Ted Fouhy who has given a life time of support and commitment to the club had the great honour of joining the team in celebrating and Ted was pictured in last Mondays sports section of the examiner lofting the cup high into the afternoon sky.
Shanballymore 0-14 Eire Og Annacarty 1-9, the game itself kicked off at 2pm and we knew from the drawn match that this was going to be battle from start to finish. Eire Og had the first score when they pointed after 3 minutes but this was soon cancelled out by the excellent Brian Sheedy when he latched on to a free from Sean Lynch and slotted over to draw us level.
We were playing into a strong breeze which seemed to be at times cutting across the field and this was going to make it difficult for both teams. This early score from Brian settled our nerves and we had the next two points the first coming from the hard working and dangerous full forward Jonathan Dennehy who gathered a long clearance from Eoin O’Regan and Jonathan calmly turned his man and pointed from the 21 yard line.
A minute later we were two points in front when our captain and main scoring treat Brian O’Reilly gathered a pass from Darren Roche and after breaking free from his marker Brian surged down the wing and split the posts from a tight angle. This was an excellent start against the wind but like the drawn game Eire Og showed that they weren’t going to let us too far in front and they had two points of their own in the 12th and 15th minute to level matters once more.
We kept up the pressure on Eire Og with an excellent point from our lively corner forward Colman O’Reilly after some brilliant defending by Alan Sheedy and Jerome Fitzgerald. Jamie Sheedy gave us a two point cushion once more when he pointed from a place ball after Haulie Burke was fouled going through the heart of the Eire Og defence. With 20 minutes gone and leading 0-5 to 0-3 we were doing very well all over the field and the amount of individual battles that were taking place was amazing to see.
Our inside back line of Eoin O’Regan, Eoin McHugh and Alan Sheedy had to be on their guard against a very lively Eire Og inside forward line who carried the most scoring treat for Eire Og. Credit to the lads they kept tabs on them and put in some excellent hooks and blocks at vital times to stop certain scores. Behind these lads and keeping the last line of the defence intact is the experienced Declan Fitzgibbon and he was also kept busy all through and made some vital clearances to ease the pressure on us.
Our halfback line of Jerome Fitzgerald, Sean Lynch, and James Hayes who were outstanding in the drawn game were again showing that they will be a match for any half forward line who try and take them on. Some of the high fielding from these three boys was a joy to see and their long clearances gave our forwards a plentiful supply of ball.
Darren Roche in midfield was getting through a serious amount of work and this lad also has some excellent hurling ability to go along with his work rate. His midfield partner on Sunday Brian Sheedy is a man that can play in a variety of positions and whether it’s full forward, center forward or midfield one thing is for sure Brian will give his heart and soul to every ball that comes his way.
Our half forwards were in a serious battle again last Sunday and every time they came near the ball they were being well marshaled by a Eire Og defenders. But thankfully in Haulie Burke, Brian O’Reilly and Jamie Sheedy we have three excellent hurlers that can win their own individual battles and also pick off some excellent points. Inside them Jonathan Dennehy was putting in a master class performance in full forward and every time the ball was in the area of the Eire Og goal Jonathan was making sure that neither the full back or goal keeper were clearing the ball without being put under serious pressure. Jonathan also threw in a few timely hits as well to add a little spice to the contest.
Our corner forwards Colman O’Reilly and Padraig Fitzgerald were putting in a great shift and these two lads showed some great energy collecting loose ball and also making themselves available to the back line. Padraig was a last minute replacement for our veteran forward Paul who picked up a injury in training during the week and unfortunately for Paul he failed to make it through the pre-match warm up but thankfully we have strength and depth in this squad and Padraig Fitzgerald took his chance with both hands and played an excellent hour of hurling.
Like the drawn game Eire Og hit a purple patch and in a seven minute spell they added 1-2 to their tally to hold a three point lead with half time approaching. This goal was a body blow for us and gave Eire Og a real lift and the next few scores were going to be vital. We had the next point when Darren Roche picked up a loose ball 45 yards out and he put over a brilliant point under pressure to close the gap to two points.
Eire Og answered with another point when they had a 65 sail over and they now had their three point lead back again. They had a chance of a goal when a ball broke to their wing forward on the 21 yard line and just as he was about to pull the trigger James Hayes got in an amazing last minute block to deny them a cretin goal chance. We had goal chances of our own in the first half but Eire Og were also in resilient mood and Jonathan Dennehy, Colman O’Reilly and Darren Roche were all unlucky with efforts for goal.
Coming up to half time we surged forward and in a 5 minute spell we had the game level with three excellent points from the O’Reilly brother’s Brian and Colman and a free from Jamie Sheedy. This was just the tonic we needed for the second half and we headed for the half time break in confident mood. We now had played over 90 minutes of hurling against Eire Og Annacarty and still the sides could not be separated so this last 30 minutes were going to be a serious battle and which ever side were going to come out on top were certainly going to deserve the title.
Amazingly for the first 14 minutes of the second half both side failed to score and take control of the game so with just over a quarter of an hour left in this enthralling battle where no side seemed to be giving in we were still level. In this first 14 minutes the excitement among the crowd had to be seen to be believed as both sets of players put bodies on the line to claim the title.
The first score of the second half was a Jamie Sheedy free after his brother Brian was fouled going through and this was soon followed by a brilliant Haulie Burke point from play after some trojan work in defence by Eoin McHugh and Sean Lynch. Eire Og got a point from a free in the 49th minute to bring the lead down to one point again and this would set up a grandstand last ten minutes to the game. Colman O’Reilly was fouled from the resulting puck out from Declan Fitzgibbon and sharp shooter Jamie Sheedy stepped up and sent the ball sailing between the posts to once again give us a two point cushion.
The Eire Og full forward had a point from play with 8 minutes remaining and then a real turning point came in the game when first with Eire Og applying serious pressure on our defence our full back Eoin McHugh gathered a high ball in the air from between a ruck of swinging hurleys and he in turn cleared down field to Brian Sheedy who slotted over a brilliant point to see us lead by two again with full time approaching.
Again Eire Og answered this with a good point of their own and now the game was really in the melting pot and could go either way. With 3 minutes remaining we got a vital score when Eoin O’Regan played a Long ball to Brian Sheedy who slipped a lovely pass to Brian O’Reilly and as our excellent captian was tearing through the Eire Og defence he was fouled and this gave Jamie Sheedy the chance to put us two points in front again.
Jamie duly obliged with a splendid strike and now all we had to do was hold out for the final few minutes which supporter’s said afterwards were like an eternity. In the final minutes both teams struck a wide each from pointed efforts with ours coming from Colman O’Reilly under pressure after some great work in the corner by Kenneth Barry and Jonathan Dennehy to set him up. With a two point lead and with full time approaching we knew that Eire Og had to go for a match winning goal and also knew from the drawn game they would not give up and try to the death.
In the last few minutes our back line which was now made up of our midfielders and half forward line defended as if their lives depended on it and the amount of blocks and tackles that were going in were amazing with bodies thrown on the line to win a Munster title for the famous black and red. The tension amoung subs, mentors and supporters was almost unbearable and with hundreds praying for the full time whistle to be blown.
When a Alan Sheedy clearance sailed up field referee Anthony Costigan blew for full time and Shanballymore had claimed our very first Munster hurling championship title. As I said already the celebrations at the end had to be seen to be believed and everybody connected with Shanballymore near and far at home and abroad must have been very proud at 3.30pm on Sunday the 14th of February 2016.
This is an outstanding achievement for the panel of players and mentor’s who have between matches and training sessions trained very hard over the last 13 month’s. Trainer Jim O’Sullivan who came in last January deserves a serious amount of credit for the way this panel is playing and his approach to every match and training session is very professional. Our three selectors Tom Palmer, Pat Walsh and Conor Hannon have all played with Shanballymore and all know what it’s like to win and lose with the club but last Sunday I don’t think you would find three prouder men in Ireland.
The level of commitment they have shown is unbelievable and they have a brilliant understanding of the game and how it should be played. The panel of players who have for the last 13 months put in an unbelievable effort on the training field have finally got their rewards and now these lads go in search of another milestone for Shanballymore when they play in the All Ireland semifinal in two weeks time.
This will be another unbelievable experience for the whole club and community and no doubt it will be another fierce battle against Barrow Rangers from Killkenny. If a Munster final against Tipperary opponents was tough then an All Ireland semifinal against a team from Killkenny will be something special. This semifinal will take place in Killeedy in just over a weeks time on the Sunday the 28th of February and will be part of a double header as the other semifinal between Galway champions Tynagh Abbey Duniry and Eire Og Annacarty Donohill. This promises to be a fantastic day in Killeedy.
Team: Declan Fitzgibbon, Eoin O’Regan, Eoin McHugh, Alan Sheedy, Jerome Fitzgerald, Sean Lynch, James Hayes, Brian Sheedy(0-2), Darren Roche(0-1), Jamie Sheedy(0-5 4f), Haulie Burke(0-1), Brian O’Reilly(0-2), Padraig Fitzgerald, Jonathan Dennehy(0-1), Colman O’Reilly(0-2) Subs: Kenneth Barry for Darren Roche, Stephen Donegan, Paul Burke, Richard Burke, Niall Barry, Brendan Hayes, Vincent Burke, Robert McHugh, Micheal O’Donovan, Eamonn Fitzgerald, Shaun Cronin, Brian O’Regan, Dave Twomey, Jonathan Linehan.
Referee: Anthony Costigan(Laois). Excellent display of referring by the Laois official who was always up with the play and also left the game flow.