Relentless Reid proved too much for Slaughtneil, laments McShane
Ballyhale 2-24 Slaughtneil 2-19
Slaughtneil fell agonisingly short of dethroning one of the biggest clubs in the game in Newry as Ballyhale just managed to find a way out of the puzzle and battle that they were presented with.
The Kilkenny and Leinster champions were priced up as 1/33 to win this All-Ireland semi-final but for the longest time the air around Newry crackled with the possibility of an incredible upset.
A goal in the 58th minute from Brendan Rogers, when he caught his goalkeeper Oisin O'Doherty's puck-out before lashing to the net, sent the stand into raptures.
One point in it. And yet in the next play, Ballyhale coach Henry Shefflin's nephew Evan bailed him out with a tidy point and a TJ Reid free followed.
They had the breathing space, and then a Ballyhale puck-out was flicked on by Mark Alyward into the path of Colin Fennelly, who planted to the net. A bit of gloss to a hard day's work.
"I knew it was going to be a serious game. I knew about the athleticism, knew about the attitude, but the biggest concern for me was going to be the hurling," noted Shefflin.
"I knew with them not having the football this year, the hurling was going to be top-class and that's what we saw. I think we performed very well. I don't think we were as sharp obviously but Slaughtneil really tied up our forwards at stages.
"I still think that Slaughtneil were just brilliant, they got some amazing scores and pushed us right to the pin of our collar. We spoke earlier on about being patient and trusting each other. Those words really came right down to the end."
It's difficult to know if Slaughtneil will ever have a better chance of dethroning All-Ireland champions. So much fell into the lap of the hurling wing of the club and they had, for the first time since their hectic domination of both codes in Ulster began, 12 weeks where they could focus exclusively on hurling.
And they may have caught Ballyhale cold in the opening 10 minutes. A fine Chrissy McKaigue point opened the scoring after 30 seconds and Cormac O'Doherty then landed a free from the far 45 metre line, an early glimpse of a great day's striking for him.
A goal came when Brian Cassidy's sideline cut broke off Se McGuigan and Jerome McGuigan's ground stroke eluded Dean Mason in goal.
By then, anything seemed possible. But winning any game against a side with TJ Reid presents an almost insurmountable challenge as he rifled over 10 frees from a range of angles and distances, adding another special one from play as he held off marker Shane McGuigan.
Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane said: "We lost because we came up against probably the greatest free-taker who has ever played the game. A normal free-taker maybe misses two or three and it makes a difference in the game.
"I have to say I thought some of the frees were of the soft variety, and maybe we weren't getting those frees, but I don't want that to sound like whinging and complaining.
"That's the way it is, the referee refereed it the way he saw it.
"Slaughtneil proved they belong at the top table with any team from any county in Ireland, they can mix it with them all."
It's an easy thing to say that Ballyhale played within themselves, but the work rate and the fine skills from Slaughtneil unsettled them throughout.
While they were soon on level terms, the economy from both teams and the scores were off the charts for club hurling.
If there was an edge, it was in sheer ruthlessness. Ballyhale and Colin Fennelly's first goal originated with a Michael Fennelly clearance to Reid, who played it into the former to find the net.
From then on, there was never more than two points in it until a sense that the tide had begun to subtly turn. Fennelly was winning frees that had been denied in the first half and O'Doherty missed a free in the middle of a run of four consecutive points for the reigning All-Ireland champions.
But Slaughtneil replied with three of their own strung together. They needed a goal and while they got it, perhaps it was a few minutes too late.
BALLYHALE: D Mason; D Corcoran, J Holden, D Mullen; E Shefflin 0-3, M Fennelly, R Reid; R Corcoran 0-2, C Walsh; A Mullen, B Cody 0-3, TJ Reid 0-11, 10f; E Reid 0-1, C Fennelly 2-1, E Cody 0-2.
Substitutes: P Mullen 0-1, for C Walsh (HT), M Aylward for B Cody (58m), J Cuddihy for E Cody (62m).
SLAUGHTNEIL: O O'Doherty; K McKaigue, S Cassidy, S Ó Caiside; C McKenna, Shane McGuigan, M McGrath 0-1; G Bradley, C McKaigue 0-2; M McGuigan, C O'Doherty 0-9f, B Rogers 1-2; B Cassidy 0-3, Sé McGuigan 0-1, J McGuigan 1-0
Substitutes: C McAllister for ÓCasaide (49m)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).