Delight for Cody as 'mad to play' Shefflin shakes off rust in style
KILKENNY 1-24 GALWAY 0-15
The modernist view of hurling is that Henry Shefflin ought really be in the land of slippers and bi-focals now as he eases his 35-year-old frame through winter's black humour.
But he brought a lyric touch to the artistically spartan business of Walsh Cup hurling yesterday, Kilkenny delivering a quiet, firm statement of renewal in Freshford. With hail sweeping down in agitated tornados from an inky sky and umbrellas snapping like kindling, it would have seemed appropriate to send out an expedition, not a team here.
Yet, Kilkenny essentially rode the conditions home in a storm-assisted second half, turning a four-point half-time deficit into an almost desultory double-digit win.
For Shefflin, it represented his earliest inter-county start in nine years, yet he delivered a flawless free-taking exhibition as well as a good half-dozen gorgeously creative cameos that had the majority of a remarkable 1,500 attendance whooping loud approval.
Brian Cody is maybe too well versed in the murky perils of January tea-leaves to read too much into this, but did reflect: "He (Shefflin) was decent there today. He's in great shape. Essentially it's the first pre-season he has had in four years to be able to get out there and do it and give himself a chance.
"He's mad for it. His hurling the past few years has been very much more limited than he would have wanted it to be. So he's just mad to play, there is no doubt about that. He is bursting to get out there."
For Galway, the second-half fade-out was a concern for Anthony Cunningham, whose wound was salted further by an intemperate late pull from Darragh Burke that brought the young centre-back a straight red card and led to Eoin Larkin's departure on a stretcher.
Larkin was subsequently able to walk back to the dressing-room with his right arm in a sling, the two managers taking rather polarised views of what had happened.
Cunningham described Burke's sending-off as "harsh", suggesting that yellow would have been a more appropriate choice of colour by referee Brian Gavin.
"Darragh Burke had the ball in his hand, threw the ball up to hit it, I think t'was a bit rash or maybe a bit wild, a yellow card it would be in my book really," he said. "There was not intent and, when there isn't any intent, it shouldn't be a red card."
Cody expressed relief that early indications of a broken elbow bone had been readjusted to "bruising", observing flatly: "I don't want to get involved in it. It was something that shouldn't have happened really, but I'm not going to start pontificating about it."
With a gusting wind in their backs, Galway had the better of the first half, yet struggled to build the kind of lead it was clear the conditions demanded.
They'd suffered a fifth-minute sucker-punch when Colin Fennelly goaled after brilliant build-up play between Shefflin, Mark Kelly and Larkin. Galway would win the remainder of the half by 0-11 to 0-4 with the likes of Niall Burke and Cathal Mannion making good use of the elements.
Yet, even then, it was clear that Shefflin, Fennelly and JJ Farrell were on form in the Kilkenny attack while Conor Fogarty and Paul Murphy especially were hurling up a storm on the left side of their defence.
Galway led 0-12 to 1-5 at the interval, but that advantage had disappeared within nine minutes of the resumption. Between the 35th and 55th minutes, Kilkenny outscored their opponents 0-10 to 0-1, Shefflin punishing every Galway misdemeanour with pin-point accuracy.
He set up the score of the game in the 48th minute, spiriting the ball almost magically from a copse of hurleys before finding the unmarked Fennelly with a sublime reverse-pass to the right wing. By now, admittedly, it was one-way traffic, Galway's resilience leaking palpably away.
Cunningham was relatively sanguine when it was over. "We'd be happy enough with our progress and we'll focus on the Railway Cup in two weeks," he reflected. "That's another match before the league. It's Dublin then in Pearse Stadium.
"The championship is the big one for us and we have to give guys experience in the league. We saw that today, we had Sylvie Linnane and Gearoid McInerney, playing there, two wing-backs, Darragh Burke, second season but also getting a flavour of it, Padraig Landers and Richie Cummins, players up front.
"We'll try and get experience. You can train away, but it's only when you come up against top-class inter-county players you know if you are going to step up to the mark."
Kilkenny now face Dublin in Croke Park in Saturday's final, Cody reflecting: "It means another match, which is good. The league is coming up obviously very soon, so matches are good for us. I'm happy enough, definitely."
SCORERS – Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-13 (12fs), C Fennelly 1-3, JJ Farrell 0-3, A Fogarty, B Hogan, E Larkin, P Walsh and M Kelly 0-1 each. Galway: N Healy 0-8 (6 fs, 1 '65'), N Burke, C Mannion 0-2 each, D Glennon, Darragh Burke, C Callanan (f) 0-1 each.
KILKENNY – E Murphy, S Prendergast, M Walsh, C Fogarty, J Holden, B Hogan, P Murphy, A Fogarty, P Phelan, H Shefflin, C Fennelly, E Larkin, JJ Farrell, M Kelly, L Ryan. Subs: T Breen for Ryan (45), D Langton for Murphy (52), P Walsh for A Fogarty (52), T Keogh for Prendergast (59).
GALWAY – C Callanan, F Moore, R Burke, J Coen, G McInerney, Darragh Burke, S Og Linnane, C Mannion, A Harte, D Glennon, J Glynn, N Burke, P Landers, C Cooney, N Healy. Subs: B Flaherty for Harte (55), R Cummins for Glennon (55), D Dolan for N Burke (65).
Ref – B Gavin (Offaly)