Kilmacud Crokes' Damien Kelly with Colin Fennelly (r) of Ballyhale Shamrocks
TJ Reid fired 1-08 as Ballyhale Shamrocks advanced to the Leinster SHC final, following a 2-15 to 0-12 win over Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park.
Shamrocks never trailed during this contest, but were forced to work hard against a Crokes outfit determined to reach their first provincial decider.
Henry Shefflin and Damien Kelly traded early points, but Shefflin’s fifth-minute goal laid the platform for Ballyhale during the opening half.
TJ Reid was on form from placed balls and following his fourth point in the 20th minute the Kilkenny champions held a 1-06 to 0-04 lead.
Kilmacud worked hard with points from Caolan Conway and Dillon Mulligan, but Shamrocks fired an unanswered 1-02 before the break, including Reid’s goal to take a 2-09 to 0-06 interval lead.
Crokes cut the gap to six points on the restart, with unanswered points from Mulligan and Ryan O’Dwyer.
However, Ballyhale always had the extra edge, holding Crokes to just one point in the final quarter on the way to a nine-point win.
Fresh from claiming their 15th Kilkenny title last weekend, Ballyhale Shamrocks were favourites to advance to their first provincial decider since 2009.
This game wasn’t all one-way traffic, but crucially, Ballyhale’s ability to pick off scores when it mattered saw them advance to yet another Leinster decider.
0-02 to 0-01 ahead after four minutes, following Reid’s opening point, Ballyhale were dangerous early on with Shefflin snatching their opening goal with a rasping shot in the fifth minute.
Reid’s second point opened up a five-point gap soon after, and although Crokes kept in touch thanks to the efforts of McGrath and O’Dwyer, Ballyhale stayed on top.
Kilmacud were forced to perform well defensively, with Cian MacGabhann halting a goal-bound move by Conor Walsh, while Damien Kelly and Matt Collins also worked hard.
At the opposite end Alan Cuddihy made a vital block on an O’Dwyer run in the 23rd minute, as Crokes aimed to eat into their 1-07 to 0-05 deficit at that stage.
Dillon Mulligan helped to cut the gap with an excellent point, but Ballyhale fired 1-02 without reply before the break, including Reid’s 28th minute goal, as they took a 2-09 to 0-06 interval advantage.
Crokes fought hard on the restart with a trio of unanswered points, but crucially they couldn’t get within six points of their opponents over the remainder of the hour.
Reid, Shefflin and Colin Fennelly all picked fine points during the third quarter, as Ballyhale moved 2-12 to 0-10 ahead.
Conway, O’Dwyer, McGrath and Rob O’Loughlin worked hard, but Ballyhale closed out the game with two of the final three points, both from the stick of TJ Reid.
Ballyhale Shamrocks: R Reid; A Cuddihy, J Holden, T Coogan; P Shefflin, M Fennelly, C Walsh; B Aylward, D Hoyne; J Fitzpatrick (0-01), H Shefflin (1-02), TJ Reid (1-08, 6f); E Reid, C Fennelly (0-02), M Aylward (0-02).
Subs: B Cody for Hoyne (41); K Nolan for Coggan (51); R Corcoran for M Aylward (54); A Cummins for Cuddihy (54).
Kilmacud Crokes: M Collins; N Corcoran, Rory O’Carroll, J Clinton; R O’Loughlin, J Dougan, C MacGabhann; D Mulligan (0-02), D Kelly; Ross O’Carroll, C Clinton, J Sweeney; C Conway (0-02), S McGrath (0-02, 2f), R O’Dwyer (0-05, 4f).
Subs: B O’Carroll for J Clinton (18); R Murphy for Rory O’Carroll (HT); O O’Rorke for C Clinton (39); B Mulligan for MacGabhann (47); J Burke for McGrath (52).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)