Henry Shefflin paid tribute to his players for holding off Borris-Ileigh’s late surge in yesterday’s All-Ireland club final.
Ballyhale Shamrocks collected an eighth All-Ireland and Shefflin said their semi-final experience against Slaughtneil’s sweeper stood to them: “Two weeks ago we faced a similar scenario and probably didn’t handle it very well in the first half. I don’t think Colin (Fennelly) was too happy up in Slaughtneil because Ger Bradley was getting too much ball.
“I think we learned from that. Even in training last Thursday night and last Sunday, we trained for that. We had a bit of work done on that and I was glad we did.
“I felt like we were coming in the first half, the second half of the first half, per se, but we just didn’t get that goal.
“I thought if we had gotten that goal we might have kicked on. Again, at the start of the second half I think we started well enough. The one thing I was afraid of in the lead-up to the match — everyone was texting me the same thing, that Borris-Ileigh have serious momentum behind them.
“They started to get that then come the end of the second half obviously TJ stands up and away we go again.”
Shefflin was full of praise for Reid and the other team leaders: “That part there when we really needed him, in the last five or six minutes, you were just waiting for TJ.
“That’s what I’m saying, we give out the jerseys at the start of the match, number six, number three, number 11, and number 14 first because we say ‘these are our leaders lads, and ye just follow these lads’.
“That’s what we have, we have that spine there, we’re very fortunate to have that spine.”
Shefflin is unsure whether captain Michael Fennelly will continue: “I thought this time last year that it was his last day, to be honest. When he got a serious knee injury he was off for four months. I was in contact with him and he was humming and hawing so I knew there was a glimmer of hope.
“I think he’s minding himself very well and the word has been used before — he’s a warrior. He just keeps in there.
“That long 37-inch hurley swinging over someone’s shoulder to get the flick or a touch in and just the physical strength of the man — the way he’s managed himself with the double-jobbing in Offaly and dealing with Johnny Kelly (Borris-Ileigh manager, Offaly selector) as well.
“In the last couple of weeks it’s been noticeable, his focus and his performance against Slaughtneil was a little bit off and he wanted to put it right. I thought he was a brilliant rock in the centre of our defence there today.”
The manager also praised his newcomers: “I’d probably pick out Darragh Corcoran. This time last year he was 18 years of age and he didn’t get any championship action.
“He’s really developed and that’s what I’m mindful of the whole time. Inter-county is different. You’ve probably 35 top-quality players that are busting a gut to get on a team and are probably very good hurlers and have the opportunity to get a run at a county team.
“I’ve lads inside who aren’t going to take TJ’s jersey or Michael’s jersey but they keep coming and coming and coming. That’s what you need — a panel of players.
“I was delighted when we were playing the Byrne Cup, a local competition in Kilkenny, without the county players. Darragh Corcoran was one of the players who stood up for us and he got his opportunity and finished the year strongly. That’s what you’re looking for and that’s what you need.”
With Conahys (junior) and Tullaroan (intermediate) also winning All-Ireland titles, Shefflin felt it was a good weekend for Kilkenny hurling.
“There’s plenty of hurlers in Kilkenny, that’s for sure. It is great. A bit of confidence.
“We said that last year, when we got out of Kilkenny we wanted to represent them strongly in Leinster because Kilkenny teams hadn’t done well in Leinster the previous few years. Kilkenny hopefully will be coming.”