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Shefflin: 'I think it was a great token by the GAA. That’s what makes it special'

The GAA gave corporate box tickets for the All-Ireland club final to the families of two Ballyhale players who died in the past couple of years.

Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin with Evan Shefflin celebrate after the game.
Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin with Evan Shefflin celebrate after the game.
Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

YESTERDAY’S ALL-IRELAND hurling final featured two clubs touched by a number of recent tragedies, as Michael Fennelly mentioned in his speech after lifting the Tommy Moore Cup.

The names of Brendan Fennelly – star of their 1980s side – and 2019 squad member Eugene Aylward were fresh on the minds of Fennelly and manager Henry Shefflin in the wake of Ballyhale’s record eighth All-Ireland victory.

Both men passed away last year. 12 months ago they remembered another former team-mate who died. Eoin Doyle’s jersey was hanging in the Shamrocks dressing room for the win over St Thomas’ on St Patrick’s Day 2019 following his death in April 2018.

This time around it was Aylward’s number 19 jersey they brought along for every step of the journey.

“I think as joyous as an occasion as it is today it’s a very sad day as well,” said Shefflin. “There’s no doubt about it, to do back to back you have to have serious desire and want. 

“I think Eugene’s Aylward passing last year has given them that want and desire. 

“They wanted to do something special and have that jersey with them. We had a photo inside last year of Eoin’s jersey. As some of ye might be aware, Eugene’s jersey, number 19, wasn’t seen all year, but it was inside with them in the dressing-room. 

“We got a picture with that jersey and the cup and I think that’s a great reflection of what the lads wanted to achieve today.

“I know there is a lot of negativity in the press at the moment about the GAA and calendars and everything like this, but I must recognise today the Doyle and Aylward family and the Cullen family – Eoin Doyle and Eugene’s family were offered tickets by the GAA, a box, and they are all up there together.

ballyhale-players-celebrate-after-the-game Ballyhale players celebrate after the game, Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I’m sure very emotional and sad that their two boys are not there – but I think it was a great token by the GAA. That’s what makes it special.

“We can nit pick and this and that but behind it all, when they had those tragedies, when Borris-Ileigh had their tragedies, who do you turn to? You turn to your friends in the GAA community.

“I’m just delighted they were all up there today. Again, I think the two lads were shining down on us.”

Shefflin could scarcely have enjoyed a better start to his managerial career.

His achievements as a player, where he won 10 Celtic Crosses with Kilkenny, were unparalleled and now he’s applied his midas touch to management. 

After two campaigns in charge of his native club, they’ve yet to taste defeat in championship hurling.

Two Kilkenny, Leinster and All-Ireland titles have followed leaving Shefflin as a leading contender to replace Brian Cody as county boss whenever the legendary figure decides to step away.

“It’s something we’re going to reflect on,” Shefflin said of his future with Ballyhale.

“Tommy, my brother, has been an excellent, excellent trainer and he’s heading off to the Kilkenny camogie team. I didn’t think when I took on this job over two years ago that two years later we’d be standing here today.

“It’s nearly two years to the day exactly that we met up to start for the championship in 2018 – it’s an amazing way to finish it off.”

Ballyhale are an extremely well-coached side, as evidenced in how they handled Borris-Ileigh employing Dan McCormack as a sweeper.

“Two weeks ago we faced a similar scenario and probably didn’t handle it very well in the first-half,” said Shefflin. “I think Colin (Fennelly) was too happy up in Slaughtneil because Ger Bradley was getting too much ball. 

“I think we learned from that. Even in training last Thursday night and last Sunday, we trained for that. We had a bit of work done on that and I was glad we did. Look, Darren is a fabulous hurler. I think himself and Darragh in the other corner were absolutely magnificent today. 

niall-kenny-is-challenged-in-the-air-by-darragh-corcoran-and-joey-holden Borris Ileigh's Niall Kenny is challenged in the air by Darragh Corcoran and Joey Holden of Ballyhale. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I felt like we were coming in the first half, the second half of the first half, per se, but we just didn’t get that goal. 

“I thought if we had of gotten that goal we might have kicked on. Again, at the start of the second-half I think we started well enough. The one thing I was afraid of in the lead-up to the match, everyone was texting me the same thing, Borris-Ileigh have serious momentum behind them. 

“They started to get that then come the end of the second half obviously TJ (Reid) stands up and away we go again.”

As ever, man-of-the-match Reid was a driving force behind the Ballyhale victory. His influence was summed up during the dying moments, just as the Tipp side were hauling themselves back into contention. 

Borris-Ileigh had scored four points on the bounce when Reid broke forward for a vital score to extend Ballyhale’s lead to three. A minute later, Dean Mason’s puck-out was sent in Reid’s direction where he was surrounded by a couple of Borris defenders.

Reid broke the ball to the deck, flicked it up and ran down the heart of the opposition with three defenders running in his wake. The former Hurler of the Year was hauled down and he popped over the subsequent free to put his side four ahead.

Just like that, Borris’s rebellion was quelled and daylight was put between the teams once again.

“That part there when we really needed him, in the last five or six minutes, you were just waiting for TJ,” said Shefflin about his star man.

“That’s what I’m saying, we give out the jerseys at the start of the match, number six, number three, number 11, and number 14 first because we say these are our leaders lads, and ye just follow these lads.

“That’s what we have, we have that spine there, we’re very fortunate to have that spine. 

“We said these are our leaders, lads, and ye follow these lads and we’re very fortunate to have that spine.”

Speaking about centre-back Fennelly, who’s been mixing his club duties with the Offaly manager’s job, Shefflin added: “Well I thought this time last year that it was his last day, to be honest.

“When he got a serious knee injury he was off for four months. I was in contact with him and he was humming and hawing so I knew there was a glimmer of hope. I think he’s minding himself very well and the word has been used before – he’s a warrior.

“He just keeps in there. That long 37-inch hurl swinging over someone’s shoulder to get the flick or a touch in and just the physical strength of the man and the way he’s managed himself with the double jobbing in Offaly and dealing with Johnny Kelly as well.

 “In the last couple of weeks it’s been noticeable, his focus and his performance against Slaughtneil was a little bit off and he wanted to put it right. I thought he was a brilliant rock in the centre of our defence there today.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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