No-one has been there and done that as a player like Henry Shefflin. And now, just a year into his first senior managerial stint, he’s just an hour away from steering Ballyhale Shamrocks to another All-Ireland title. “We knew it was going to be very tight,” said the Kilkenny legend in the wake of his side’s victory at a sodden Semple Stadium. “We probably didn’t play against a team like Ballygunner in the Kilkenny championship. Patience was a word we used all week, then when you come out and do the warm up and the rain is coming you need even more patience. It looked like we were in for a real battle, scores were going to be hard to come by and that’s what happened. In the beginning we struggled a little bit, you can talk tactics all day long but until you see them in practise, that’s when you test yourself. But once we pushed up on them, especially in the second half they had to go long, and when they went long, we were winning more of those breaking balls.”
The Shamrocks manager was thrilled with the contribution made his younger starters. “Eoin Cody and Patrick Mullen, sure I’m delighted for them. We said after Christmas that we wanted the panel pushing hard; we had Mark Aylward coming in as well and it was a tight call between Eoin and Mark. Eoin had a serious battle with his marker Eddie Hayden but the one thing about Eoin is when he gets a chance he takes it. The young players are brilliant. But we have a nice balance, that bit of youth and the experience and in the first half, TJ (Reid) lead the line very well… We knew our full back line had to be tight and I though Joey Holden was marvellous in there. We knew we had to get the balance right; we were trying not to concede too many goals all year and that is something we were focused on.”
As for his goalscoring hero Cody? “He’s very talented; the last time he came on here for a game was as a sub for St Kieran’s this time last year, and he was taken off again so for any young lad listening, you just have to keep going. He’s been very skilful since he was a young lad and I’m delighted for him.”
This return to an All-Ireland Final somewhat taken Shefflin by the most pleasant of surprises. “When I took over the lads I was saying let’s do well in Kilkenny this year and maybe next year we can go further, so it’s happened very quickly. When we got into (the) Leinster (Championship) we said let’s go for it and it’s followed on that path since. We put serious work into today, no more that Ballygunner did, we heard about all the work they were doing and we were doing serious work also. You can plan and plan but you need the players to perfect and as the match went on the players got better and better and it’s a great feeling to be heading back there (Croke Park).”
Did the muscle memory of big matches like this help Ballyhale, in Henry Shefflin’s view? “I think experience did stand to us, yeah. We said at half time, be patient. The momentum of the gaol swung the game in our favour. It was that kind of game…
“Like ourselves, St Thomas’s will enjoy this weekend and then come Monday morning we’ll start preparing again. The thing about this campaign is that it’s the ninth of February; we’re not playing until March 17th so both teams will have plenty of time. That’s a challenge also, when I was playing myself , you’d only have two to three weeks to prepare for the final. Five weeks is a long lead in time but look we’ll plot and plan and they are a serious outfit and it will be a big challenge for us.
Its great to be involved with such a good bunch. I know these lads well, you just want them to get the best out of themselves. It’s great to be involved with them.” He continued: “Any time you get to be successful with your club is great. To come out of your own county any year is an achievement , for me its great to see the younger players developing with the more experienced players and gelling together as a team is great. We were very nervous ahead of this match, we knew we had to be right for it and we were I loved playing, absolutely nothing beats playing but it’s great to be still involved.”