Ballyhale Shamrocks weren’t supposed to make it out of Kilkenny, never mind Leinster, this year.
Now Henry Shefflin’s side find themselves 120 minutes away from what would be the club’s seventh All-Ireland title and Colin Fennelly believes it is the club’s “breeding” that has taken them back to the brink of another national title.
“Tommy Shefflin said it there in training on Friday night: ‘You can’t beat breeding’. And we have the breeding,” Fennelly explained. “You have the Shefflins, you have the Reids, you have the Fennellys. It’s all just passing through.
“Our fathers did exactly what we did. And we’re nearly in competition with them.”
Ballyhale wasn’t founded until 1972 but the first of their 16 county titles was claimed just half-a-dozen years later.
And a ninth Leinster title was annexed two days ago with a 16-point demolition job of Ballyboden St Enda’s.
This is what they do. What they believe they were born to do. And no-one has any intention of cashing in their chips now when there is an All-Ireland semi-final against the Munster champions awaiting on the far side of Christmas.
“I’ve been talking to lads already and they’re saying, ‘Ballygunner next’. Straight away they’re thinking about it. They’re a massive team, they’ve been knocking on the door the last few years so it will be a massive game.”
This is a very different Ballyhale side to the one that claimed their last All-Ireland title with a 12-point defeat of Kilmallock in March 2015.
Only seven of those who started that day three years ago took the first whistle against Ballyboden.
The team is operation now is a potent mix of experience and class in the shape of the Fennellys, Colin and Michael, Joey Holden and TJ Reid, as well as a chunk of youngsters who have emerged from an U21 batch that claimed a county title this time last year.
“It’s a massive turnaround. And it’s not because lads were tired. It’s because young lads are coming up and pushing for places and they’re earning the places. It is a big transition. We’re lucky enough that we did have the minor team coming through.
“We had an U21 county final that they won last year and that’s what you need. If you get six or seven players off that you’re doing amazingly. We’ve probably 10 off that. Those other lads on the bench that are pushing for places.”
Shefflin spoke of that depth in talent after Sunday’s defeat of Ballyboden by explaining the panel now is pushing past 30 when that number had shrunk to 26 or 27 in recent seasons. Colin Fennelly has been amazed at the abilities of players who can’t even make the bench.
It’s an enviable situation for Shefflin who has embarked on his first campaign as a manager after such an illustrious playing career but there’s no doubt his input has been as good for the players as theirs’ has been for him.
The one down side for Fennelly, TJ and Richie Reid, and Holden is the crossover between the remainder of the club campaign with Kilkenny’s impending league duties.
“I don’t want to miss too much of that but I can’t complain,” said Fennelly. “I’m in an All-Ireland semi-final.”
Back where they believe they belong.