‘Tommy Shefflin said it in training on Friday night: ‘You can’t beat breeding”

ON ST PATRICK’S DAY 2015, Ballyhale Shamrocks were crowned All-Ireland club champions for a record sixth time in what was Henry Shefflin’s last game at Croke Park.

Henry Shefflin during the 2015 All-Ireland club final.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

That afternoon Shefflin lined out on a formidable half-forward line, flanked by TJ Reid and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, while his brother Paul played at wing-back.

Almost four years on, they’re 60 minutes away from a return to HQ with the King now prowling the sideline. Henry’s nephew Evan Shefflin is flying the flag for the family on the field, as are his other two nephews Brian and Eoin Cody.

In last Sunday’s Leinster final win over Ballyboden St Enda’s, there were seven survivors from the team that started the 2015 All-Ireland. That includes the three Reid brothers – TJ, Richie and Eoin – plus Michael and Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden and Conor Walsh.

“It’s hilarious. If you look at it there’s only I think seven lads off that team which is a massive turnaround,” said Colin Fennelly. “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 teams. Those other lads on the bench that are pushing for places.

Evan Shefflin and Colin Fennelly celebrate Sunday’s win.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We’re a very small parish,” he continued. “I suppose it’s huge now with the city teams, the population they have, but Tommy Shefflin said it there in training on Friday night, ‘You can’t beat breeding’.

“And we have the breeding. 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.

Michael Fennelly echoed that sentiment. “I was talking to the father there two weeks back and I was asking him how many Leinster titles he had,” he said. “He was saying he has three and I was trying to figure out how many I had and see how much we had all together.”

Michael Fennelly senior and junior hold eight provincial medals between them, while Ballyhale sit on top of the Leinster roll of honour with nine altogether – two ahead of nearest rivals Birr. 

Much of Shefflin’s success in his debut campaign as manager has been how he embedded the youngsters into a team backboned by serial All-Ireland winners.

“When Henry Shefflin talks to you it’s enough inspiration in itself, to see the confidence that he has in you to do the job that he wants you to do,” Colin said.

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Fennelly attacks against Ballyboden on Sunday.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’m sure the young lads look up to him, I still look up to him, I played with him for years but I still look up to him massively. When he speaks, you listen.” 

It wasn’t long after the final whistle went in Carlow and thoughts turned to their All-Ireland semi-final opponents next February.

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.

“We’ll be keeping in touch over Christmas and then as soon as that is over it will be hell for leather and you’ll be looking forward to an All-Ireland semi-final which is exactly what you want.”

TJ and Richie Reid, Colin Fennelly and Joey Holden will miss a chunk of Kilkenny’s league campaign next spring as a result of their extended club run, but that’s a small price to pay for club success.

Kilkenny and Ballyhale star TJ Reid.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I presume it will be (like that), that’s the way it always has been,” said Fennelly. “I presume we’ll be talking to Brian (Cody). I don’t want to miss out on the league but then what a place to be, in an All-Ireland semi-final.

“I love playing with Kilkenny, I love playing the league matches because the league matches are a massive bearing coming into the championship. I don’t want to miss too much of that but I can’t complain, I’m in an All-Ireland semi-final.

“We thought that the All-Ireland series was supposed to be all played out in one year, that’s the way it should be. But it’s just the way it is. We’re probably the ones losing out from it, that we don’t get to play with our county.

“We don’t get the league matches. It is a different transition, coming from club to county, no matter how good you are playing, it’s a transition because it’s a step up in standard straight away.”

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