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'This time last year if someone was to say that this would happen I would have said, 'You're mad''

Barry Heffernan enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Tipperary defence this summer.

Barry Heffernan was speaking at the Aer Lingus Super 11's Jersey launch.
Barry Heffernan was speaking at the Aer Lingus Super 11's Jersey launch.
Image: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

BARRY HEFFERNAN ADMITS it himself.

If you’d told him 12 months ago he’d be sitting here as an All-Star nominee, having played the full 70 minutes of Tipperary’s latest All-Ireland final victory, he wouldn’t have believed you. 

“Not a hope,” he smiles. “If someone told me last year that the year was going to end like this I would have told you you’re mad.”

Heffernan’s rise is a lesson in patience, hard work and capitalising on your opportunity when it presents itself. He joined the Premier senior squad in 2014 but three years later still only had a handful of league appearances to show for his efforts. 

Injury and health issues played a role in delaying his arrival on the scene. Three concussions in the space of six months between 2015 and 2016 forced the Nenagh Éire Óg man to stand down from hurling for a spell. 

He made his first championship start against Limerick in the 2018 Munster round-robin opener, but the Premier suffered a heavy beating and he saw no more action that summer. 

A lack of aggression was often held up as Heffernan’s weakness and he was pleased to prove his doubters wrong after altering his game to make full use of his physical gifts.

“Definitely. That was something that I have developed this year, use my physicality a bit more. It was something that I worked on the whole year and it was nice to put a silence to it. 

“It probably would have been one of my biggest flaws,” he admits. “I was aware of that as well that I was probably a bit pure in hurling and it was something that I had to improve on if I wanted to play for Tipperary.”

James Barry’s late withdrawal before their round 3 provincial clash against Clare this year paved the way for Heffernan to show Liam Sheedy his worth. He held 2018 All-Star John Conlon scoreless in a convincing Tipperary victory. 

“To mark someone like John Conlon and to hold him for that long, it was a great achievement,” says Heffernan.

“I think Paudie Maher was very close to me the whole day so it was great having him in front of me.”

Sheedy was captured in a photo after the game shaking Heffernan’s hand and giving a knowing look into his eyes. It may well turn out to be a day that proved the turning point in Heffernan’s season, and possibly his career.

clare-v-tipperary-munster-gaa-hurling-senior-championship-round-3 Liam Sheedy with Barry Heffernan after the Munster SHC win over Clare. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

“That’s probably Liam’s greatest trait, he’d give you an unbelievable amount of confidence in yourself. That is a very memorable picture for me because it was just Liam giving you confidence about the day and going forward and to drive it on.”

After Tipperary limped past Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Sheedy shook things up in his defence and Heffernan was on hand to benefit against Wexford.

“Sometimes versatility might play against you in that you’ve no real set position. But I suppose the other side is that it doesn’t matter where you’re on the field, the fundamentals stay the same, you have to go to the ball and you just have to work hard.

“That was the mindset throughout the year, that it didn’t matter where you were playing on the field, that you just had to do your bit for the team.  

“Lads were just flying it playing. They had a really strong round-robin in the Munster championship and I suppose the Munster final didn’t go to plan and Liam probably had to reshuffle the pack a bit. Then I was lucky enough to get a start in the Wexford game and that went okay. Thankfully the All-Ireland final went okay as well.

“Liam was very supportive all year. He just kept saying, ‘Stay going and stay being patient, everybody will be needed throughout this championship.’ A person of Liam’s experience you have to listen to him and that’s what I did.

“A week before the Wexford game he said, ‘I’m thinking about playing you next week.’ Then I was lucky enough to get the nod and it went okay after that.

adrian-mullen-and-barry-heffernan Heffernan is tackled by Adrian Mullen in the All-Ireland final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It was different. People have often talked about the noise that was in there and I didn’t really pay much heed to it, but when you actually run out it’s nearly electric. It was great.

“I suppose the longer the game went on the more you didn’t want it to end because of how much you were enjoying it but it was an unbelievable experience.”

He saved his biggest performance of the year for the final against Kilkenny. Heffernan was dominant in his aerial contests with Cats dangerman Walter Walsh and Tipperary lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup once again. 

“It probably hasn’t hit home, yet the last few months have been very unrealistic.

“But it’s been great the last few weeks and the next few weeks you can enjoy. Once January comes then you’ll have the shoulder to the wheel again.”

For Heffernan, the hope is that it’s only the start.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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