Looking sharp in open play and deadly accurate from his dozen placed balls, the recently-turned 35-year-old delighted the Freshford crowd in what was his first Walsh Cup game in nine years.
A combination of club commitments, injury rehabilitation and rest had precluded him from the competition since 2005, but here he took full avail of being an early riser and lead Kilkenny to a final date with Dublin next weekend. Aside from the frees, his speed of foot and dexterity were cause for applause. In the 12th minute, he managed to maintain a solo run while lobbing the ball over an opponent. His sumptuous stick pass to Colin Fennelly for a 49th minute free was more in keeping with a summer’s day than this glacial afternoon. On another day, John Joe Farrell’s promise would have been the standout characteristic of Kilkenny’s win, but Shefflin’s determination to claim what often appeared lost opportunities proved the highlight. His point from play in the 60th minute came after he kept his focus having seen his first attempt blocked.
Listening to Brian Cody afterwards, wild horses never mind the manager wouldn’t have stopped Shefflin from playing.
“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.
“The reality is that fellas want to get into the team for the league. If you get into the team you have a good chance of staying there. If you don’t get into the team you have to fight your way into it.
“The same rules apply to everybody. Everybody wants to play in these matches because in three weeks we are down in Clare.”
The occasion was tempered somewhat by Eoin Larkin’s elbow injury in additional time, which saw him assisted off the field. Galway centre back Darragh Burke was issued with a straight red card for the pull.
Cody revealed the initial assessment was just bruising but said: “It was something that shouldn’t have happened but I’m not going to start pontificating about it.”
Anthony Cunningham, who was admittedly closer to the action on the stand side although their reaction was one of shock, viewed the incident differently.
“I thought it was harsh. Darragh Burke had the ball in his hand, threw the ball up to hit it. I think it was a bit rash or maybe a bit wild. A yellow card it would be in my book, really, but we’ve seen those nine times out of 10. There was not intent and when there isn’t any intent it shouldn’t be a red card.”
Cunningham acknowledged Galway’s half-time advantage of four points — 0-12 to 1-5 — wasn’t enough facing a stiff second half breeze. Niall Healy, with three points, was their only second half scorer.
“The difference between four and seven (points) was quite big on a day where there was a big wind. A couple of times the ball should have been cleared and that’s an aspect of our play.
“We have gave away a few soft, handy scores and we have to sharpen up on that but it’s within our compass.”
Kilkenny’s first half goal came in the fifth minute when clever low stick passes involving Mark Kelly and Larkin set up Fennelly to find the net. Not until the 31st minute did Galway, aided by the wind, go ahead in the game and they had lost their lead less than 10 minutes into the second half. On another note, Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan converted one of two long-range frees in the first half with an oversized hurley. The county, via Clarinbridge, are bringing forward a motion to Congress next month calling for larger bas hurleys to be banned in scoring.
Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin (0-13, 0-12 frees); C Fennelly (1-3); JJ Farrell (0-3); A Fogarty, B Hogan, E Larkin, P Walsh, M Kelly (0-1 each)
Scorers for Galway: N Healy (0-8, 0-6 frees, 1 65); N Burke, C Mannion (0-2 each); D Glennon, D Burke, C Callanan (free) 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 L Ryan (45); P Walsh for A Fogarty, D Langton for P Murphy (both 52); T Keogh for S Prendergast (59); T Walsh for E Larkin (inj 70+4).
GALWAY: C Callanan; F Moore, R Burke, J Coen; G McInerney, D Burke, S Óg Linnane; J Glynn, A Harte; D Glennon, J Glynn, N Burke; P Landers, C Cooney, N Healy.
Subs: B Flaherty for A Harte, R Cummins for D Glennon (55); D Bolan for N Burke (65).
Red card: D Burke (70+4, straight).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).