Hard-earned win for Ballyhale
Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) 1-16 Tullamore (Offaly) 1-8
Ballyhale Shamrocks equalled Birr's record of seven AIB Leinster Club SHC titles, following a hard-earned eight-point win over Tullamore at O'Connor Park this afternoon.
Nine-time All-Star Henry Shefflin scored six points in a game which saw Tullamore come slightly back into contention in the second half.
First-time finalists Tullamore made an excellent start with a point from half-forward Ger Treacy inside 40 seconds of the throw-in.
However, this was the only time that Kevin Martin's charges would lead as the super-charged Shamrocks were soon dictating the pace.
Patrick Reid was in an eager mood for goals in the opening stages, and although his second minute shot was well saved by Tullamore's veteran goalkeeper Damien Fox, the Ballyhale full-forward would later make amends.
It was Henry Shefflin who led Ballyhale's early scoring charge with three points, along with a Colin Fennelly effort, pushing his side 0-4 to 0-1 in front by the 10th minute.
Tullamore added their first point in 10 minutes thanks to a score from midfielder James Keane to cut the deficit to two points.
But Ballyhale powered clear to lead by 1-8 to 0-5 at the interval, thanks largely to Patrick Reid's 28th-minute goal.
Reid's effort came following a long range free, the ball broken down by Tullamore net minder Fox inside, but the Shamrocks full-forward was able to knock the breaking ball to the net.
James McGarry's men powered into a 10-point lead early in the second period, before Tullamore upped the tempo and got back in the game.
Indeed, the eventual winners only scored three points in the closing 23 minutes - Michael Fennelly, Eoin Reid and Shefflin were on target - as Tullamore made an impressive comeback.
Tullamore captain Shane Dooley led the charge for his side with a 50th minute goal which reduced the arrears to nine points.
Dooley and corner forward Francis Kerrigan tried hard to get the Offaly men back in touch, but Ballyhale sealed victory with a sixth point from Shefflin in injury-time.
After the game, Ballyhale Shamrocks captain Eamonn Walsh accepted the O'Neill Cup from Leinster Council Chairman Seamus Howlin.
The Kilkenny and Leinster champions will face Cork side Newtownshandrum, the newly-crowned Munster champions, in a mouth-watering All-Ireland semi-final showdown in February.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: J Connolly; A Cuddihy, A Cummins, P Holden; P Shefflin, E Walsh, B Aylward; J ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly (0-2); TJ Reid (0-2), H Shefflin (0-6, 0-3f, 0-1 '65'), C Fennelly (0-1); E Reid (0-3), P Reid (1-0), D Hoyne (0-2).
Subs used: B Costello for H Shefflin (18-19 mins, temp), M Aylward for C Fennelly, B Costello for P Reid (both 50), K Nolan for Holden (52), J Walsh for TJ Reid (59).
TULLAMORE: D Fox; A Martin, C Bane, S Egan; N Mannion, B Dagg, H Tracey; J Keane (0-1), S Kelly (0-1); E Finnerty, K Martin, G Treacy (0-1); F Kerrigan (0-1), J Duffy, S Dooley (1-4, 0-3f, 0-1 '65').
Subs used: S Martin for H Treacy (48 mins), D Herlihy for Mannion (51), J Rouse for Kerrigan (59).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).