Paul Sheehan will celebrate his 34th birthday next month. He is at an age when he thought he had seen the best his career would offer.
Not by a long shot. He has enjoyed many a great day with his beloved Rower-Inistioge, but Saturday in Croke Park was the best by a mile.
“This makes up for every and any disappointment I ever suffered in sport,” he enthused after helping the Kilkenny and Leinster champions cap off a great championship with victory in the All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final.
Sheehan, whose run in the team was interrupted when he suffered a bad hamstring injury in the latter stages of the Kilkenny championship, was sprung from the bench when team captain, Michael Grace, suffered a dead leg after about three quarters of an hour.
Sheehan answered the call in heroic fashion. He took over the free taking duties from the departed skipper. High pressure stuff, with the score at 1-5 (RI) to 1-4 at the time.
The game coughed up four free shots for Sheehan, including a 65. He popped over three of them, and threw in a point from play for good measure.
‘Hawk Eye’ was called into play to adjudicate on another of his efforts that had been given by the umpires, but it ruled ‘no score’. Sheehan ploughed on, and he signed off on his Croke Park scoring with a jolly, raised arm wave after one score.
“That’s me,” he smiled when reminded. “I get a bit excited at times. It is something that is in me. But the feeling was so, so good. I have to say, I really, really enjoyed that experience.”
In his 35 minute involved, he scored 0-4 to finish as the Noresiders top scorer.
“It will take a while for all this to sink in,” he smiled.
“It was a testing time for us all, but we made it. The feeling of delight at winning is hard to put into words. This is what sport is all about. It is a dream come true.”
It wasn’t easy sitting on the sideline watching as the wides tally mounted during the first half, he admitted.
“To be fair to the lads, the conditions were tricky,” Paul insisted. “There was heavy rain and the wind was swirling. Conditions got a bit better in the second half, and for extra time. We plugged away. There is a great spirit there.”
It was great, he admitted, when he got the call to duty, although he felt for his injured colleague.
“This is where you want to play,” he beamed. “This is Croke Park, the home of what we all believe in. This is it....the best place to be involved in the sport we love.”
He admitted to an “absolutely brilliant feeling” about the whole championship experience. He has been hurling for 25 years and more, and this was his first taste of All-Ireland success.
“The feeling couldn’t be better,” he assured.
Injured captain, Michael Grace, let the words flow during a touching address when he accepted the trophy.
“Unbelievable, just unbelievable,” he offered when asked about the winning effort. “I didn’t think I would ever experience anything like this.
“I sat in the stand as a sub with Kilkenny for two years. I never thought I would get the chance to play in Croke Park again. To do it in the red and green of the Rower-Inistioge is just unbelievable.”
His involvement was cut short by a leg injury, but he thought the “boys put in some performance.” He took a knock in the first half and suffered a dead leg and he couldn’t shake it off.
“It was torture watching from the bench,” he laughed. “I think when the time comes that I am not making the team I will just give it up. I couldn’t take that sitting and watching from the sideline. You can’t sit still. It is impossible.
“We could have blown it by shooting all those wides in the first half. We were saying at half-time not to let this chance pass us by. I think we were a bit nervous. We regrouped at half-time. We were 30 minutes away from winning or losing an All-Ireland.
“We knew we were the fitter team. We knew we had a strong bench to come on. It is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. I feel like I want to go on for years and years after this in the hope that there could be more such good feelings to come. It is just great.”
Now the goal for all, players and backroom people, was to meet the challenge of competing well in the Kilkenny senior league and championship.
“We knew the longer we could stay involved in the Leinster and All-Ireland championships, the more it would teach us,” Michael continued. “The experience of going through all this should stand to us in the league and championship this season.
“It should help our hurling, our coping skills. That is the next big challenge. We might get a month off now. We will regroup then. What we have been through can only be of benefit to us.”