WHEN you're hot ... you're hot. And even when Henry Shefflin is soaking wet, he's hot.
Yesterday, in conditions resembling the prelude to a mid-scale tsunami, the most decorated player in the history of the All Stars salvaged a draw for Ballyhale Shamrocks just when it looked like James Stephens had pulled off the shock of club championships so far.
Pressure is clearly not a force to which Shefflin subscribes and as he lined up the 50-metre free to the right of the James Stephens goals, the driving rain, greasy ball, drenched hurley and the significance of the strike proved insufficient factors to throw the great man off his stride and level the game at 0-11 to 1-8.
In doing so, he forced a replay next Sunday back in Nowlan Park and put the date of the Kilkenny champion's Leinster club quarter-final with Oulart The Ballagh back a week.
Yet the score -- a sweet strike on a day when they were so few and far between -- merely served to ad to the man's growing legend. Seven points he hit, all frees, but when it mattered most and when Ballyhale's hurling had seemingly faltered, Shefflin, produced the goods with two late strikes.
"Well, Henry being Henry ... he never misses," praised Ballyhale joint-manager Michael Fennelly senior. "Fair play to him. He was intimidated but fair play to him."
Ballyhale had looked sure to re-affirm their preeminence as Kilkenny's top cats and capture a fifth county title in six years, as they hatched a 0-8 to 0-4 half-time lead but thanks to a brilliant second half from Eoin Larkin and a goal from David Walton in the 64th minute, 'The Village' then pressed into a lead and on the cusp of one of their most famous championship victories.
When the ball was on the deck, the players resembled turf cutters frantically slashing soggy bog, and attempting to catch proved akin to trying to catch a greased-up pig on an ice rink.
Ballyhale settled better but had a massive breeze at their backs but for all that, the most noticiable disability suffered by the players thanks to the weather was their ability to strike the ball cleanly.
Fennelly junior -- crowned Hurler of the Year less than 48 hours previously -- found his forward forrays blunted by soggy underfoot conditions and ravenous defenders.
Donnacha Cody -- son of Brian -- enjoyed a good day marking Shefflin -- but with TJ Reid winning plenty of ball in the first half, Henry was always going to get chances to punish from frees.
James Stephens hit the first three points after the break and Ballyhale managed just three more points -- all frees -- for the match.
The turning point, however, came when Larkin broke through the middle of the Ballyhale defence and fumbled the ball conveniently in front of Walton, who slammed past Richie Reid into the net to go a point ahead.
Shefflin and Larkin exchanged frees before Colin Fennelly seized on a ball, with a full two minutes over the alotted injury time elapsed, and was fouled for Shefflin's deciding strike.
"I said to James (McGarry): 'Will we make a substitution?' 'Sure it's over,' he said. The ball was down in our lower half and Walshy got a free, came up the field, Colin ran on and got the free so I was happy then," added Fennelly senior.
And so both sides live to fight another day. Hopefully for all concerned, a much dryer one.
SCORERS -- Ballyhale Shamrocks: H Shefflin 0-7 (7f), TJ Reid 0-2, E Reid, C Fennelly 0-1 each. James Stephens: E Larkin 0-6 (5f), D Walton 1-0, N Tyrrell, E McCormack 0-1 each.
BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: R Reid; P Shefflin, A Cummins, G Fennelly; B Aylward, E Walsh, J Holden; J Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly; H Shefflin, TJ Reid, D Hoyne; E Reid, C Fennelly, C Walsh.
SUBS: M Aylward for Hoyne (54).
WIDES: 8 (4 + 4)
JAMES STEPHENS: D Brennan; J Comerford, T Keogh, N McQuillan; P Larkin, J Tyrrell, D Cody; E Sheehy, E McCormack; N Tyrrell, E Larkin, D McCormack; E McCormack, M Ruth, D Walton.
SUBS: R Hayes for E Sheehy (52), G Whelan for N Tyrrell (60)
WIDES: 2 (1+1).
BOOKED: J Comerford (34).
REF: M Flynn (Mooncoin).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Eoin Larkin (James Stephens).