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Ballyhale manager Andy Moloney: 'I wish people would stop asking him (Henry Shefflin) about when he will retire. He's answered the question more times than is fair'

Ballyhale manager Andy Moloney: 'I wish people would stop asking him (Henry Shefflin) about when he will retire. He's answered the question more times than is fair'

SPORTSFILE

Ballyhale manager Andy Moloney: 'I wish people would stop asking him (Henry Shefflin) about when he will retire. He's answered the question more times than is fair'

Before the conversation turned to Ballyhale Shamrocks and their chances of regaining the AIB All-Ireland club title on Tuesday, Andy Moloney looked back at his own playing days.

Moloney made a considerable impact on the hurling landscape. In many ways, he lived the dream; became an underage star, captained WIT to two Fitzgibbon Cups and hurled inter-county senior for Tipperary and then Waterford. Still, there is a lingering regret that the Cahir man's career with his native county was not as rich as it should have been, and certainly not as prolonged.

In 2000, Moloney was a starter for Tipp; the ambition of a lifetime fulfilled. A year later, when they won the All-Ireland for the first time in a decade under Nicky English, he was in the stands, his heart split between pride at seeing his county top of the heap and frustration that he wasn't part of it.

"Unreal for the lads but if I was to tell the complete truth it was absolutely heartbreaking for me," he says. "Absolutely broke my heart. You'd be churning up inside wanting to be a part of it, thinking that you could have been a part of it. You'd be beaming with delight for the lads you came up along the ranks with but growing up, hurling for Tipp was my thing. All I ever wanted. And when we got to the top it was just disappointing that I wasn't among them."

Disappointment also that he never came back after that?

"Injuries," he sighed. "Almost at the same time every year - and right before the various championships started. Serious enough ones too."

The most serious one was a frightening eye injury 15 years ago that left him with 20 per cent vision in his right eye.

"April 30, 2000," he exclaims without hesitation. "That's a date I'll never forget."

Tipp were playing Limerick in Thurles in the league and Moloney went in chase of Ollie Moran to hook him. In swinging his hurl to clear the ball, Moran accidentally caught Moloney who was in close proximity behind. It was a complete accident and Moloney's eye bled and closed within seconds.

He was rushed from Semple Stadium amid much concern that serious damage had been caused and taken to Ardkeen Hospital in Waterford where he was detained for seven days, undergoing specialist treatment.

The Cahir man was told that bleeding could lead to added complications, but thankfully he got through it, got back hurling, although maybe never to the same standard again.

"Well, it was hard to get back to that top level," he said. "I would have perfect vision in one eye but, in the other, if someone was five foot in front of me I mightn't see them until the last second.

"But I was mighty relieved to have any vision at all. It was very tough on Ollie too. He is a great friend of mine and what happened was a total fluke. It might not have happened nine times out of ten. Ollie was really worried about the situation and there was absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent it from happening - it was just one of those things."

And yet Moloney, always a physical player and brave as a lion, never gave up the dream of getting back in the blue and gold shirt, even if that dream faded pretty quickly afterwards.

When he failed to make the Tipp team after 2000, Waterford came hot on the chase. He was in college there at WIT and they had tried to get him on board previously. As another season passed without a call back to Tipp, he decided to switch tribes. Again, that was a tough call.

"Another hard decision to have to leave Tipp," he reminisces, "but I was off the scene at home, out of sight and out of mind. And I still wanted to play inter-county hurling. I believed I was good enough too and had a strong connection with Waterford. I had three years with them."

While in college at WIT, he won two Fitzgibbons, captained a successful team, narrowly lost out on a third and formed friendships for life.

He shared a house with seven others including Henry Shefflin; a player that he will 'manage' in next week's club final, if a man who is arguably the greatest player in the game needs any guidance.

At the time, Shefflin was a key part of the WIT side but held nothing like the incredible iconic grip he would later have on the game.

Moloney is quizzed as to why Shefflin's career took off in the manner that it did following his WIT years and trails off laughing. "I'd say it was the fact that he got out of that house and away from us," he replies.

"Great bonds were formed with all of us. We would call to Henry's home and his mother, Mae, would never leave us go without tea and something to eat. They are the most grounded family I ever saw so that's the first thing that keeps him rooted.

"Secondly, Henry wanted it more than anyone. Even now his wife Deirdre would tell me that after club training with Ballyhale Henry would go back home and go off for a run by himself.

"The man just loves hurling. I would feel that while he has won everything - and won so much of it - he still might feel that there is more in the tank. Don't forget that he missed out on quite a bit of game time through injury these last few years.

"Before Christmas, we came back with a list of eight challenge matches that we had lined up before the AIB All-Ireland semi-final with Gort. Henry said he mightn't make all of them - we told him we didn't want him for any of them, that he was to stay fresh. That's a great thing with Colm Bonnar, who brought me into the set-up - Colm keeps lads fresh. I don't think Henry accepted that, though, because he ended up playing in all of the games we played. Just loves it."

Moloney says it's a privilege to be his friend and former team-mate and to now work with him so closely with Shamrocks.

"I wish people would stop asking him about when he will retire," Moloney quips. "At this stage anyone who asks him about his future is not a real hurling person. He has answered the question more times than is fair. Just leave him alone, I don't know how he keeps his cool."

Ballyhale is a place Moloney knew quite well before he joined Bonnar in taking on the Kilkenny giants, the most successful club team in the history of the game.

He had been there many times for birthday parties and weddings. When Bonnar asked him to link up - the pair had previously soldiered at WIT, hurled together for Tipp and jointly-coached Ballygunner - he didn't hesitate to link up again. The first question facing them, though, was had the team grown too old? And would Moloney have to drop players he played with in college, or had enduring friendships with?

He did have to do that - both Paul Shefflin and Aidan Cummins, old chums of his, have spent spells on the sideline this campaign. Moloney found it hard to leave them out, but gave the news straight to both men and mapped a route back into the first 15 which both ultimately took.

"Colm and I have this 'good cop, bad cop' routine and unfortunately for me I'm the bad cop," Moloney smiles. "In fairness, Colm has done wonders with this team, keeps them fresh, gets on with all the players exceptionally well and it's my job to break the bad news. I wonder did I get the wrong end of the stick there?

"But when we came in first, the question was asked; 'Have this team too many miles clocked up?' I think the way Colm has handled them, kept them fresh, has been absolutely outstanding. I'd rate Colm as the best around. If Tipp are looking for a manager down the line, I'd have him in the role he is currently in for Ballyhale, no doubts at all."

Being written off is not something Shamrocks are used to but they were almost passed over before the county final with Clara, having lost to O'Loughlin Gaels in the league stages of the championship where they played very poorly.

"That made us ask a lot of questions and really it came to: are we gone? Are we finished or are we going to make a right go of this?" Moloney recalled.

They re-emerged a week later and beat Carrickshock by 13 points.

"It's so important to the locality and hurling is so pivotal to the county," Moloney says. "The pressure is always there. Like, take Tipp at the minute where soccer, rugby and Gaelic football are all threats now. In Kilkenny, there's just hurling. Nothing else, really. There are no other real interests."

He likes the intense pressure that brings, though, and getting a front-row view into the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the best club team in the best hurling county in the game's history is priceless.

For example, he can clearly see that Cha Fitzpatrick, who he describes as 'pound for pound the best hurler we have', left the inter-county stage way too soon.

"Cha certainly had a lot more to offer - we can see that every day," Moloney says. "But he's his own man. Overall, it's just great to see the different characters within the set-up. It's a learning curve too as I'm really not long at the coaching side of things."

That's not strictly true - he was coaching the Cahir minors while hurling senior for Tipp, but at this level he is still cutting his teeth.

On the line, he tends not to get too bogged down with tactics, save for an occasional distrust of the possession, short-passing game.

"The close control, short game looks great when it comes off, but when it breaks down I think it can leave a team in big, big trouble," he says. "To get the short passing game to where it needs to be takes months of stick work, drills and preparation. If that breaks down - and Kilkenny showed against Cork years ago how it can be dealt with - it leaves a team in huge bother because they won't have a Plan B.

"My tactic as a coach would be pretty simplistic," he adds. "Work harder than the opposition. That will get you a long way down the line."

It's worked for Kilkenny over the years. And it could well work for Ballyhale Shamrocks on Tuesday again.

Moloney's playing career may have been cut short, but he might yet get the longevity he deserves on the sidelines.

 

Ballyhale Shamrocks v Kilmallock

There is talk - and has been for a while - that Shamrocks are a tired team. After all Henry Shefflin turned 36 recently, midfielder Bob Aylward will be 37 this year, while defenders Paul Shefflin and Aidan Cummins have a combined age of 70.

And yet, we're still waiting for them to be seriously exposed by any opposition.

They had the tougher semi-final task in beating Gort and they were pushed hard all the way in that one. Cha Fitzpatrick is playing the hurling of his club career and, apart from Shefflin, they have so much talent to call upon in the Fennellys and TJ Reid.

Kilmallock have earned their final berth. They came through a punishing Munster campaign, played a stack of challenge games after Christmas and hammered Portaferry. They have some fine inter-county players on view like Gavin O'Mahony and Paudie O'Brien and they will be fresh and hungry.

On paper, though, you couldn't bet against Ballyhale. And only on the field will we see if they are actually a tired team.

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