Saturday 24 March 2018

Kilkenny will remember this for years – Shefflin

Brian Hogan celebrates after Kilkenny’s victory over Tipperary
Brian Hogan celebrates after Kilkenny’s victory over Tipperary
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

They carried him to the field with their roars on an evening that will follow Kilkenny people across the great lakes of distant generations.

Henry Shefflin smiled in the dressing-room corridor after, tickled by the wild drift of it. "Tonight," he said, "I think is something that we'll always remember in years to come."

Walking by, Brian Cody wore that familiar, redemptive grin. "Will ye leave him alone," he exhorted of a media scrum now squeezing tight around the king like courtiers in a royal court.

All the vigour and fear and mystery of Kilkenny hurling found expression in Nowlan Park on Saturday night.

Maybe 20 minutes before throw-in, the eruption that welcomed the team from under the Ted Carroll Stand was deep and primal.

Eyes squinted out at the apparitions wearing jerseys 27, 28 and 33. Murphy, Shefflin and Fennelly. Elbows nudged. Suddenly, the man on the tannoy had an audience in the palm of his hand. Murphy would be starting.

He read out the team, then uttered the words that broke all borders of reason. "There is one addition to the Kilkenny panel ... Henry ... " BOOM, the rest was lost in the thunder.

Later, Shefflin would communicate the depth of the miracle.

In Portlaoise a week ago, Cody declared that the three marquee injuries had "not a hope" of featuring against Tipperary. Last Monday night, he was given cause to reconsider. Murphy was moving better and Henry had begun to radiate impatience.

Shefflin's surgeon Alan Laing, said he would not stand in his way if he chose to chance a cameo appearance, but admitted he'd prefer the stress fracture in his foot to be granted another fortnight's peace. So Cody left it up to Henry.

"In a hurling aspect, I've been doing straight-line running in runners and stuff," Shefflin revealed later, his five-minute contribution distinguished by the setting up of Richie Power for Kilkenny's penultimate score.

"Only put on my boots two weeks ago and my helmet last week, so I suppose I would have preferred if we had another couple of weeks."

But Tipperary on the doorstep? This was no day for biding time.

Had the idea of losing to the blue and gold in Nowlan Park frightened "the lives" out of Kilkenny all week? "Ah it did of course, there's no point in saying otherwise," reflected Shefflin.

So the noise had a specific tenor in the bullpen.

"There was a lot to take into account and I certainly wouldn't like to even think about it (losing to Tipp at home). It was huge," reflected Kilkenny captain Colin Fennelly. "Our backs were to the wall.

"It was hard to hear the lad beside you. I remember roaring at Richie Hogan and he was only about five yards from me and he could not hear what I was saying."

For Tipp, there was maybe redemption of a kind, given the virtual circus-act of their last championship defeat to Kilkenny. But defeat is likely to trigger a raft of retirements now and, in a week that former Kilkenny captain Eddie O'Connor questioned their "bottle", Eamon O'Shea felt compelled to defend his team.

"Whatever view there is out there of Tipperary, I would like to challenge it," said O'Shea. "You don't come down here ... the view that Tipperary are not able to put up a fight, I would challenge that view.

"Tipperary came down to try to win a game and I'm immensely proud of the way they went about their business.

"These guys are honourable men who went to fight today. They came out on the wrong side of the fight, but these are men of honour. These will be men of honour in the future and any criticism they get is undeserved because they have put in a huge effort for Tipperary, a massive effort.

"We just lost a game by three points, yeah? We didn't lose what's in Tipperary. This team, a lot of them, with the guys coming behind them, will be back in the next couple of years. That I'm certain of.

"I have massive belief in Tipperary hurling."

Irish Independent

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