Almost all of Tipperary’s 2018 hard luck stories disappeared into the ether last Sunday.
There were the well-known ones - Brendan Maher rupturing a cruciate ligament minutes before the Championship exit was confirmed, Jake Morris after a piece of wood prevented him saving the team’s season - and there are the slightly more obscure.
Earlier this week, first-half goalscorer Niall O’Meara spoke of the mental struggles caused by the litany of injuries he picked up. Barry Heffernan endured the same and had wondered if the inter-county game had passed him by.
“Yeah, in 2016 I spent most of the year injured so winning this year is a dream come through. Last year, I thought it was never going to happen, that the Tipp career was over, not getting on the 26 and things like that. It was great to stay going and it was a lesson to never give up.”
Concussion had been a concern. Between 2015 and ’16, he suffered three occurrences before he experienced another against Limerick in the League earlier this year.
“It was a bit of a worry. You have to take caution now. A lot of sports including rugby are clamping down on concussions. We’ve a good medical team, we trust in them and if they say you’re okay, you’re okay. You have to listen to them.”
Heffernan was never out of the 26 this summer, making his first appearance against Waterford as a half-time replacement for Brendan Maher.
When James Barry suffered a late illness ahead of Clare, the Nenagh Éire Óg man began in Ennis and performed well against John Conlon but retreated to the bench for the Limerick games, coming on as a late replacement in the Munster final.
That was his fate in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Laois until he was drafted in to start both the semi-final and final. Excelling in both matches, he and Seamus Kennedy were testaments to guile and perseverance but also the faith Liam Sheedy had shown in the entirety of his group.
Liam was telling everyone during the year that it was going to be about 20 men, about 26 men, about 40 on the panel. He said at some stage boys will be needed and that they had to be ready.
"Everyone bought into that. Nobody was thinking about themselves, they just put the head down and trained hard and when the chance came to take it. Thankfully, myself and Seamus it happened for us so it’s great.
“The boys said it a few months ago that they would try me in the full-back line but I would have started in goals if it meant starting. Liam gave a great example of the Munster players, that no matter where they’re playing the fundamentals remain the same for your team. You go for the ball, you try and win the ball, you use the ball and that was our mindset.”
Alongside Ronan Maher, Heffernan was catching ball in the second half almost at will.
Kilkenny’s TJ Reid battles with Tipperary’s Ronan Maher and Cathal Barrett in Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling Final at Croke Park. pic.twitter.com/KWHelrIL8w— Piaras Ó Mídheach 📸 (@SportsfilePOM) August 21, 2019
“Ronan is unreal - you could play him anywhere on the field. I think the forwards were putting so much pressure on the Kilkenny backs as well that they couldn’t deliver good ball into their forwards so that was huge.
"It’s all about the team - if the forwards aren’t working, we wouldn’t be able to come out with the ball.”
With the U20s' All-Ireland final appearance today in mind and the contribution of a youthful bench growing as the Championship developed, Heffernan is as optimistic about the future as he is worried about his starting place, even if he himself only turns 24 on Monday.
“We have a great crop of U21s from last year and we have U20s in the final this year and you only have the jersey for a certain period of time and then you pass it onto the next generation. Liam is all about that. It’s great, the future is looking bright in Tipperary. “