Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin has won an important game or two in his time
The hunger and determination coming from deep within the panel is helping hugely to drive Ballyhale Shamrocks towards All-Ireland club glory.
The South Kilkenny outfit have tasted success a record six times in the past in the All-Ireland club senior hurling championship, and now with a largely new and young squad they are hoping to shoot down St Thomas (Galway) in the St Patrick’s Day final.
Henry Shefflin, 10 times senior All-Ireland medal winner with Kilkenny and three times All-Ireland club winner with Shamrocks, is now the team manager.
Shefflin knows a thing or two about the hard work and commitment needed to be a winner having survived two cruciate ligament operations to keep his own glittering career on track, and he is thrilled by the application to duty of the Shamrocks squad, the entire unit.
“We are very lucky we have a big panel, and we have lads pushing lads on,” said Shefflin when he spoke about the upcoming Croke Park challenge.
“That is only good that the lads, all the lads, are kept on their toes.”
The drive, the spirit shown by players to win places on the team and match day panels has pleased him and fellow selectors, Richie O’Neill, Patrick Phelan and Tommy Shefflin no end.
“All have given everything asked of them,” he said of the ever willing players.
“People see the games, the matches. We see the training and level of commitment they give on and off the field. I must say the application at training has always been at a very high standard.
“That is all you can ask for. You would hope then you get the rewards when you go out and play the game. The players have really put in the effort.
“One of the most pleasing things for me is that we have in the high twenties, or thirty at training most nights.”
He said he felt some members of the group were coming, putting in a huge effort, knowing they might not even make the match day squad.
Still, they were putting in a big effort which he appreciated was for the good of the squad and club.
He singled out veteran and loyal servant, Bob Aylward, as a typical example.
At 41 years of age, Bob has let it be known he will seek to be regraded to junior for the new season, but at training Aylward is a powerful motivating force.
“He encourages and drives on the younger lads,” Shefflin insisted.
“That is what you want. You want to build that sort of drive throughout the entire panel. The younger lads are learning what is required to be successful at a high level, that nothing comes easy, that there are no shortcuts.”
The Bank of Ireland official knows that playing in Croke Park is going to be something of a dream for many of the players, up to nine at least who haven’t played in a club final with Shamrocks before.
“It is brilliant,” he insisted. “It is a brilliant occasion for the club and the community in the parish of Ballyhale. Both teams, St Thomas and ourselves, have the experience of playing in Croke Park.
“Some of our lads have been there a lot. Those experienced heads take over in the lead up to the game. They help keep things grounded.
“At the end of the day it is a game, a 60 minute match, no different to the one we started in the campaign when we began against Castlecomer (Erin’s Own) last April. It is no different to that in one respect. You go out and look for a performance.
“Of course it is an All-Ireland final. You have to try and find the balance between looking forward to it, enjoying it but having focus, being sharp and preparing yourself as best you can to deliver a big performance.”
With so many young bucks aboard, Shamrocks place no emphasis on individuals to perform.
The more experienced players like Michael Fennelly, Joey Holden, TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly, Richie and Eoin Reid lead and the younger crew then row in behind them and add youth, energy and drive within the team structure.
Youngsters are not expected to win matches on their own. If it happens, as it can, as it did in the semi-final against Ballygunner (Waterford), then that’s fine.
However, the key thing for the younger crew is that they work hard for the team, and from that all else will flow.
“That is the way it is,” Henry explained. “Some of the younger lads did very well the last day.
“For me and the management team we try and make sure they know that their job is not to go out and perform better than that again. They just have to work for the team.
“Things happen if they keep working, keep putting in a shift. That is what we are asking the lads to do.”
This has been a disjointed championship, with a 10 week break between the Leinster final and All-Ireland semi-final, and then five weeks from there to Sunday’s match.
The players have taken it all in their stride, and their application to duty has been spot on from the start right up to the final.
“I haven’t seen any major difference,” Shefflin said of the attitude in the camp now relative to how it has been all season.
“The players are as they have been, very focussed. We have to keep them that way.
“I began by saying this is another game, but it is Croke Park and the end of the hurling year. It is still about delivering the performance. It has been a massive journey to date.
“I am sure St Thomas feel the same. It is a long way, so when you get here you want to put everything you can into it and take everything you can out of it. That is what the lads are trying to do.”
Mention of St Thomas brought the reminder that they would have the edge in experience, seeing that they have eight or nine players from their All-Ireland winning team of 2012/13.
Shamrocks have six from their last winning side in 2014/15.
“We have massive respect for St Thomas,” Henry insisted when he turned his attention to the opposition. “They are similar to ourselves. They, like ourselves, are a rural, country club; brothers, cousins, that community spirit very much there.
“For me, the reason I respect them so much is they have serious forwards. They can hurt us. They are serious hurlers. They can hurl. They play the ball. They play it around.
“They are a high scoring team with a tight defence, and they have a nice sprinkling of inter-county stars. Everything we have seen from them has been very, very good.”
And so it will all come down to one 60 minutes, THE performance.
“Everything you do for the last five weeks is about building up to that performance,” the former star said of the final analysis.
“The effort the lads are putting in; how they approach the game; how they respond on the day and to Croke Park. It is a big stadium, a big occasion.
“It is a serious challenge for all the players, especially the younger players. Nine of the lads starting are very young have no experience of a club All-Ireland final.
“But it a great opportunity for them, a massive challenge.
“That is what hurling and sport is about,” he insisted.
Shamrocks will be without Brian Butler, who injured the AC joint in his shoulder in the semi-final and was taken off at half time, and Brian Cody, who also picked up an injury in recent times.
Team captain, Michael Fennelly is nursing a knee injury and is working his way through it. Expect to see him at No. 6.
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