Ballyhale Shamrocks will be back in Croke park for another year as they advanced to the All- Ireland Club final at the expense of a brave Slaughtneil side.
Once again, TJ Reid was head and shoulders above the rest in Newry. A match-winning tally of eleven points didn't do justice to a sparkling performance full of composure and leadership.
Playing centre forward with No.12 on his back, the Kilkenny star responded nearly single-handedly to everything the Ulster champions threw at them.
Cormac O’Doherty was excellent throughout and a Brendan Rogers goal at the death made it a one-point game but the Kilkenny aristocrats prevailed.
Chrissy McKaigue gave the signal of intent for Slaughtneil when their captain lifted the roof off within seconds of the throw in with an inspirational long range drive.
That bright start for the Derry champions crescendoed into a seventh minute goal for Jerome McGuigan.
Playing full forward, McGuigan was quickest to react to the high sideline cut from Brian Cassidy when the sliotar broke to him on the edge of the square.
A sweetly struck strike off the deck was enough to wrong foot Dean Mason in the Ballyhale goal.
Ballyhale took a deep breath and kept themselves in the game through TJ Reid’s clinical accuracy from frees. The placed balls were enough to weather the storm as they grew into the game from that point forward.
The pattern of the game hinged on the deployment of Slaughtneil midfielder Gerard Bradley as sweeper. Bradley was highly effective at pouncing on loose ball and provided a fruitful platform for counter attacks.
However the reigning champions showed their nous by soon playing around Bradley. Brian Cody occupied that space and Bradley’s opposing marker Ronan Corcoran landed two points directly from some wayward clearances.
Colin Fennelly then found the net with TJ again central again. A deftly delayed hand pass provided enough for the quiet up that point Fennelly, to viciously power to the net. Brendan Rogers and Cormac O’Doherty made sure the game did not get away from the Ulster champions.
O’Doherty’s fifth free would end the half with a point between the sides 1-11 to 1-10. A mammoth effort from distance left the game perfectly poised.
Second half began with Sean O’Caiside leveller and so the shoot out between TJ Reid and Cormac O’Doherty began. Both marksmen gave exhibitions their endless hours of practice deserved. They would both finish with 19 frees converted between them.
Ballyhale threatened to cut loose on occasion, Fennelly rattling a shot off the post early in the second half.
Eventually, mid way through the second period, Ballyhale did open up a gap, landing four unanswered scores between the 42nd and 49th minutes. Cody, TJ, replacement Patrick Mullen and Eoin Reid granted the breathing space.
Yet when Brendan Rogers collected his own puck out and found the net the pressure swelled again in what was now a one-point game.
The impressive Evan Shefflin registered his third point to steady the nerves and Colin Fennelly finally put the game to bed with a trademark powerful goal in the finish.
Slaughtneil: Oisin O’Doherty; Se Cassidy, Sean O’Caiside 0-01, Cormac McKenna; Meehaul McGrath 0-01, Shane McGuigan, Karl McKaigue; Gerald Bradley, Christopher McKaigue 0-02; Brian Cassidy 0-03, Cormac O’Doherty 0-09 (9f), Mark McGuigan; Sé McGuigan 0-01, Jerome McGuigan 1-00, Brendan Rogers 1-02.
Subs: Conor McAllister for O’Caiside (49).
Ballyhale Shamrocks: Dean Mason; Darren Mullen, Joey Holden, Darragh Corcoran; Evan Shefflin 0-03, Michael Fennelly, Richie Reid; Ronan Corcoran 0-02, Conor Walsh; Brian Cody 0-03, TJ Reid 0-11 (0-10f), Adrian Mullen; Eoin Reid 0-01, Colin Fennelly 2-01, Eoin Cody 0-02.
Subs: Patrick Mullen 0-01 for Walsh (h-t), Mark Aylward for B Cody (58), Joseph Cuddihy for E Cody (62)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)