Old Cat magic still takes centre stage in Croker

At times on St Patrick’s Day as the Fennelly brothers, TJ Reid, and Joey Holden breezed to All-Ireland club final success, it felt like going back in time to Kilkenny’s glory era.

Only five points separated the teams at half-time but Ballyhale Shamrocks, like Kilkenny at their best under Brian Cody, buried St Thomas’ with an avalanche of second-half scoring.

They hit six points without reply early in the second half before St Thomas’ briefly broke the scoring chain and then reeled off another unanswered seven points.

It was a proud day for Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny’s captain when they won the four-in-a-row in 2009, who capped a brilliant career by skippering his club to the All-Ireland win.

The 34-year-old, who will take time out now to consider his future, said he too was struck by the similarities between the display and how Kilkenny used to overpower teams in the second half.

“It was nearly like the Kilkenny teams of the past when I look back — the first five or 10 minutes of the second half, you hammer it home,” said Fennelly. “It felt a bit like that.

But to be fair, if you go back to the 2017 county semi-final against James Stephens, we were six points up at half-time and went out then and lost by something like nine points overall.

“Henry Shefflin mentioned that at half-time, ‘Be careful, be very, very careful’ and even though we did start hard for the first 10 minutes of the second half, I was still very conscious that there’s 20 minutes left to play because any Galway team loves getting goals.

“But the boys hurled very well, the midfielders were flying, the half-forwards were flying, they were winning one-on-one ball and when you’re winning those and the puck-outs, you’re in control of the game.”

It’s stunning success at the very first attempt for Shefflin who only jumped into management with his club at the start of the season.

With Kilkenny, Leinster, and All-Ireland titles now under his belt, the odds on him replacing Brian Cody at some stage as Kilkenny chief will plummet.

But Fennelly said it wasn’t always plain sailing throughout the season for a side attempting to blend new players with established stars.

“The way the year went, we lost a few games in the league and things weren’t looking too pretty at times,” he said. “We had a couple of injuries.

I came back from America with an Achilles issue so things weren’t too smooth at those stages.

“But thankfully we got going and got a few games under our belt and even the Castlecomer game, the county semi-final, we were blessed to win that game.

“Really we probably robbed Castlecomer so it could have been a very bad year for Henry and for the team. A lot of fingers would have been pointing at Henry as the manager, he has a tough job, a tough role but his backroom team is very, very strong. I think they deserve equal credit.”

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