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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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Shefflin the club player, Ballyhale bouncing back and life after All-Ireland glory

The Shamrocks contest another Kilkenny senior final today.

Henry Shefflin and the Ballyhale Shamrocks players celebrate Henry Shefflin and Ballyhale players celebrating their 2016 All-Ireland club final win. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“WE WERE SLAGGING him actually that he was only back with the club a couple of months and was writing stories about how the club players were being treated!

“Jesus, if he’d been there for the last 13 years, that club players association would have been set up a lot sooner!”

Andy Moloney is laughing at his recollection of reading Henry Shefflin’s views on the plight of club players this summer.

Moloney and Shefflin go back to college days in Waterford IT, a firm friendship struck up with hurling as the bond between them.

Now ex-Tipperary and Waterford player Moloney is part of the Ballyhale management team, ex-Kilkenny player Shefflin one of the players he is in charge of.

The most celebrated hurler in the game called time on his inter-county life in March 2015. Eight days earlier he had scaled the peak of club hurling as Ballyhale flattened Kilmallock in Croke Park.

Since then Shefflin has been able to fully devote himself to improving of the fortunes of the Shamrocks. They fell short at the semi-final hurdle in Kilkenny last year, today they are back in the showpiece on Noreside.

Moloney has witnessed first-hand how Shefflin continues to orchestrate and influence, this year from the centre of the pitch as a midfielder.

“Henry’s a huge asset at club level, he’s very good for the young fellas.

“He doesn’t let them away with anything. He’s very focused on what he wants.

“That’s been his hallmark. He knows what he wants, he trains to get it and he expects everyone to be on the same page.”

Moloney is the managerial sidekick to Colm Bonnar, a Tipperary duo who are just as well-versed in Waterford club hurling.

They fetched up for the first time in Ballyhale in January 2014 and have marvelled at how this village in south Kilkenny continues to churn out players and teams that achieve All-Ireland greatness.

  • All-Ireland Club – 6 (1981, 1984, 1990, 2007, 2010, 2015)
  • Leinster Club – 8 (1978, 1980, 1983, 1989, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2014)
  • Kilkenny SHC – 15 (1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014)

“You walk in and it’s just a simple set up, dressing-rooms and two playing fields. And that’s it.

“When the evenings are dark, we go to Piltown or Carriganore for training. We just get on with it.

“They keep everything simple and I think that’s the big thing with Kilkenny in general.

“When people talk about the All-Black’s in rugby, they say they do the simple things right 99% of time.

“With Kilkenny in general, it’s the same and that’s why they’ve been as successful as they have.”

Ballyhale attack the club scene in a relentless fashion. A long, exhausting campaign eventually took its toll in 2015. After their St Patrick’s Day win, they were back in Kilkenny championship action less than a month later.

By last autumn, they were running on empty and their challenge buckled under the strain.

2016 dawned and they fashioned a new challenge. It wasn’t straightforward, Moloney and Bonnar watched the All-Ireland winning side they constructed get picked apart.

Alan Cuddihy moved to Dubai. Conor Walsh has been out injured for the guts of 18 months now. Cha Fitzpatrick retired.

And then on that epic August night in Thurles, as Kilkenny and Waterford traded blows, they watched Michael Fennelly get struck down.

Michael Fennelly goes off injured Michael Fennelly suffered his injury against Waterford in Semple Stadium Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Michael is a huge player for us, whether he’s playing at midfield or centre-back, he’s a huge player,” admits Moloney.

“When we saw him going out, we thought ‘here we go’. But you know what, it’s amazing when you lose a player of that calibre, the other players seize the opportunity to step up.”

That’s been assisted by the stream of young players flowing into the Ballyhale senior squad. Last weekend their minor side lifted the county crown in the A grade in Kilkenny.

“It adds a bit of impetus to the whole setup,” outlines Moloney.

“But because of the U17 rule, only two of them are eligible to play, Dylan Aylward and Darren Mullen. The rest of them aren’t eligible to play.

“But we carry them with us to make numbers in training and also it’s a good experience for them as well to be in the same dressing-room as Colin (Fennelly) and Henry and TJ and these lads.”

Today’s Nowlan Park opponents are not unfamiliar. With Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford previously, and Mark Bergin and Mark Kelly currently, they are plenty Kilkenny senior hurlers that Ballyhale players have rubbed shoulders with.

When Ballyhale made a breakthrough in 2006 to land their first Kilkenny title in 15 years, O’Loughlin Gaels were the force they defeated.

Last year the city side knocked Ballyhale out in a Kilkenny semi-final. They had no qualms about that result yet the Shamrocks rich tradition means the current players strive for more silverware today.

“Their fathers would have been on that team in the 80’s, they like to emulate them and maybe get one over if they could.

“At the same time, there’s a great respect there for the younger players to the older ones. No one gets ahead of themselves. They keep their feet on the ground.”

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Kilkenny SHC final: Ballyhale Shamrocks v O’Loughlin Gaels, 3.15pm

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Fintan O'Toole

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