Head Sheff cooks up stormer for Ballyhale over Gort
Ballyhale 2-17 Gort 1-15 - All-Ireland club SHC semi-final
Colin Fennelly hailed Henry Shefflin's 'unbelievable' performance in Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland club hurling semi-final as joint-manager Colm Bonnar revealed a renewed pep in the 'King's' step.
Shefflin was outstanding at O'Connor Park in Tullamore, shooting five points from play as Ballyhale put themselves within sight of a sixth Tommy Moore Cup success.
Having won ten All-Ireland SHC medals with Kilkenny, 36-year-old Shefflin now has the chance to add a third club title at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day. After that, Shefflin will make a decision on his inter-county future but former Tipperary star Bonnar has "never seen him as hungry" for hurling as he is now.
Bonnar said: "Since we came back in the New Year, he seems to have got another step and he played all five challenges while the Kilkenny lads were away on holidays.
"We were saying, 'no, we'll play you in one or two' but he wanted to play in them all. "Yes, we have great players around him but he's still winning his own ball.
"He's not outside looking for the handy ball here and there. "He won a lot of hard ball there and against very, very tough and worthy Galway champions.
"They (Gort) are unlucky because most Galway teams that come out of Galway go on to win an All-Ireland club title."
Gort, who have lost two All-Ireland semi-finals in four years, were mowed down by a rejuvenated Ballyhale juggernaut.
The most successful team in the history of this competition will now aim for another title when they face off against Kilmallock on March 17.
And Fennelly (25) acknowledged that Shefflin remains as crucial as ever to the Ballyhale cause.
Fennelly gushed: "He was unbelievable. You look up to him your whole life and he's supposed to be handing it on to us now but we're still looking up to him."
Bonnar and sidekick Andy Moloney now find themselves in a paradoxical place.
They're two Tipperary men bringing a Kilkenny team to Croke Park on All-Ireland day and that reminder, if any was needed, elicited a smile from Bonnar's lips.
"It's great to be involved with the lads but there's a bit of craic alright because there's huge rivalry between Tipperary and Kilkenny," he said. "As the National League starts up we'll see it more keenly.
"Kilkenny will miss these (Ballyhale) lads early on in the campaign - there's five or six lads well capable of going in that are on the Kilkenny panel.
"With the retirements they've had, Kilkenny will be short starting out the National League."
As for Shefflin himself, it's the same as it ever was.
"I think it was well handed before Christmas, (that) I would decided after the club campaign," he remarked. "I'm thrilled that I have another five-and-a-half weeks, doing my own thing and concentrating on the club and getting myself ready for another All-Ireland final.
"And then I'll be able to go off into the sunset and decide whether I'm going to stay or not."
Ballyhale were comfortable winners on Saturday, leading by nine points in the second half before pulling up with five to spare. They hit 2-16 from play and built on a four-point half-time advantage, 2-9 to 1-8, after goals from brothers TJ and Eoin Reid cancelled out an early Michael Cummins green flag for Gort.
The Galway men battled gamely to the finish but their manager Gerry Spellman admitted a gulf in class between the sides.
He reflected: "Very disappointed. I thought our lads stayed at it well and kept going to the end, never gave up.
"From that point of view, great quality but there was probably a little bit more confidence and composure in the score-taking of Ballyhale.
"Maybe that comes with experience and winning and all of that."
Nobody epitomises that winning mentality more than Shefflin - and it looks like there could be more to come.
Scorers: Ballyhale: TJ Reid 1-2 (1f), H Shefflin 0-5, E Reid 1-0, B Aylward & C Walsh 0-3 each, P Reid 0-2, C Fennelly & P Shefflin 0-1 each. Gort: R Cummins 1-3, G O'Donoghue, M Mullins (1f), G Quinn (2f), G Lally (1 65) & W Walsh 0-2 each, J Grealish & P Killilea 0-1 each.
Ballyhale: R Reid; K Nolan, J Holden, A Cuddihy; P Shefflin, M Fennelly, A Cummins; B Aylward, C Walsh; J Fitzpatrick, H Shefflin, TJ Reid; P Reid, C Fennelly, E Reid. Subs: R Corcoran for Cummins (37), B Cody for E Reid (56), M Dermody for P Shefflin (56), G Butler for Fitzpatrick (58).
Gort: G Lally; M McMahon, T Linnane, M Cummins; A Harte, G Lally, S Linnane; S Forde, Jason Grealish; R Cummins, M Mullins, G O'Donoghue; A Mullins, G Quinn, P Killilea. Subs: Jack Grealish for Killilea (41), W Walsh for Jason Grealish (43), C Helebert for Quinn (51), N Forde for S Forde (56), K Higgins for O'Donoghue (59).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).