The first cheer came when his name was publicly added to the team sheet before the game. The next came when he was introduced as a late second-half substitute.
And the loudest cheer of all came from Henry Shefflin himself as the referee blew the final whistle on Kilkenny’s win over Tipperary in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday night.
A packed Nowlan Park lived every hit and every bounce with the man of Kilkenny and Tipp in the game of the summer that lived up to its star billing.
The winner-takes-all clash saw Brian Cody’s Cats emerge with a 0-20 to 1-14 win that sends them into next weekend’s qualifier against Waterford and consigns Tipperary to the history books for the 2013 season.
The biggest game of the year also saw Shefflin return to the ranks for the first time this season after a succession of injuries, but the man himself was happy just to be back on the field for a
contest that will live long in the memory.
The neighbors did battle with more than pride at stake and victory was everything for Shefflin and Kilkenny.
“It would have given Tipperary great motivation coming down to try and beat us. It works both ways. I think the lads knew they hadn’t performed very well last week and they really stood up to the challenge,” Shefflin said.
“It was electric. The sunshine and everything made it special. I know it’s not nice going the Qualifier route but a night like tonight is something we’ll always remember and think of in years to come.”
Now 34 and with nine All-Ireland medals already to his name, Shefflin will relish the chance to take another step towards the MacCarthy Cup final when the Cats play Waterford this Saturday. Defeat last weekend would have presented another set of questions as he acknowledged.
“It was a massive game for Tipperary as well as ourselves. For the group, it was in Nowlan Park and there was a lot written about ourselves,” he said.
“The older players…if they’d have lost there would be question marks over them but I think they answered those questions. Some of the boys were absolutely magnificent. It’s a massive win for ourselves but it’s not worth anything unless we can go on and do something in this Championship. That will be the test next weekend.”
For all the impact of his return on Saturday, Shefflin is unlikely to start against Waterford this weekend.
“My foot is fine now. If the pressure comes on it too much, it will come back again but hopefully I can manage it and build it up again,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be able to play a 70-minute match, no way, because I haven’t done it. I’ve only done 20 minutes of training basically, that’s it. I’ve been doing straight line running.
“I would have rathered another couple of weeks but I’ve been gradually building it back up and I’m delighted to be part of it more than anything else.”
A week after their shock defeat to Dublin in the Leinster semifinal replay, Kilkenny were on a hiding to nothing in the qualifiers as manager Brian Cody acknowledged.
“If we didn’t play to a very high standard then we were obviously going to be gone out of the championship and that was the stark reality for us,” Cody said.
“Obviously huge questions were being asked of our panel and the lads answered them very well. There is huge rivalry there with Tipperary and there have been huge battles over the past number of years.
“It was our pitch, but I think it’s the date as well. It is the first week of July, the consequences of looking at a Championship going ahead and thinking in our own heads that we just didn’t play to the way we can play yet. There is no point thinking that tomorrow if we are beaten.”
The game itself was a real ding-dong affair in perfect conditions on Saturday night as Tipperary, aided by a Lar Corbett goal before a hamstring injury forced him off, offered full value as they went in on level terms, 1-6 to 0-9, at half-time.
A JJ Delaney block on a goal chance for Eoin Kelly early in the second half was all the impetus Kilkenny needed to kick-on and by the end of the match Eoin Larkin had amassed 11 points for the Cats, 10 of them from frees.
They were never trailed in the final 20 minutes and Shefflin’s late introduction from the bench pushed them on again.
Tipperary fans now have to accept that their season is over in just the second week of July, with speculation sure to surround the future of many of their star players.
Their manager Eamon O’Shea has refused to condemn any of his players after their defeats to Limerick and Kilkenny in recent weeks.
“Whatever view there is out there of Tipperary, I would like to challenge it. The view that Tipperary are not able to put up a fight, I would challenge that view. Tipperary came to try to win a game, those boys were trying to win a game,” O’Shea said.
“I’m immensely proud of them, I’m immensely proud of the way they went about their business.
These guys are honorable men who went to fight today. They came out on the wrong side of the fight, but these are men of honor.
“I see this as a setback, yeah, we didn’t plan to be here, but I see it as one where we have to pick up the pieces and move on. We have the structures to do that.”
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