Henry Shefflin took his place at the high altar of hurling as he won a record ninth All-Ireland senior title at Croke Park on Sunday, as Kilkenny defeated Galway by a score of 3-22 to 3-11.
Shefflin and teammate Noel Hickey joined legendary Cats goalkeeper Noel Skehan as the only men to win nine MacCarthy Cups.
And Galway could have no complaints on a day that saw them finish with 14 men and no hope after a second half red card for Cyril Donnellan.
Shefflin made his own history as the only man to win nine medals on the field of play.
Marking the occasion with nine points, Shefflin was joined in the scoring stakes by youngster Walter Walsh who celebrated his first senior start with a goal and three points from full-forward and a man of the match performance.
The 11-point winning margin was no more than Kilkenny deserved as they set about Galway from the off and ensured there was no repeat of the drama in the drawn game three weeks ago.
Two first half goals from full forward David Burke did give Galway some hope of an upset, but in truth they were second-best for most of this game as a Richie Power goal helped the Cats to a 1-11 to 2-4 halftime lead.
And once Cyril Donnellan was dismissed for an off the ball incident with JJ Delaney in the 48th minute, it was always going to be difficult for the westerners.
Annoyed by the referee’s decision to disallow a Damien Hayes call because he has already blown his whistle, Galway then conceded goals to Walsh and substitute Colin Fennelly in the closing minutes.
Substitute Johnny Glynn restored some Galway pride with a late goal but it was too little too late for Anthony Cunningham’s side.
Kilkenny: D. Herity; P. Murphy, JJ Delaney, J. Tyrrell; T. Walsh, B. Hogan, K. Joyce (0-1); M. Fennelly (0-1), C. Buckley (0-1); E. Larkin (0-1), H. Shefflin (0-9), TJ Reid (0-1); W. Walsh (1-3), R. Hogan (0-3), R. Power (1-2). Subs: C. Fennelly (1-0) for Walsh 59 mins; N. Hickey for Joyce 65 mins; A. Fogarty for Reid 66 mins.
Galway: J. Skehill; F. Moore, K. Hynes, J. Coen; D. Collins, T. Og Regan (0-1), N. Donoghue; I. Tannian, A. Smith (0-1); D. Burke (2-0), N. Burke, C. Donnellan; D. Hayes, J. Canning (0-9), J. Regan. Subs: J. Cooney for Donoghue 27 mins; J. Glynn (1-0) for Regan 33 mins; F. Flannery for Skehill 35 mins; C. Cooney for N. Burke 53 mins; D. Glennon for Smith 63 mins.
Referee: J. McGrath (Westmeath).
HENRY Shefflin was crowned the king of Croke Park on Sunday as the hurling legend made it nine All-Ireland wins in a star studded career.
Sub Noel Hickey also joined Kilkenny old boy Noel Skehan as a nine time MacCarthy Cup winner after Sunday’s big win over Galway.
But only Shefflin has started all nine All-Ireland finals, a unique achievement for a man now set on winning a tenth and setting a new record all on his own next year.
King Henrysaid after scoring nine points in the win, “At this stage in my career you always review and evaluate. But I’d love to be back again and hopefully the body will let me come back again. It’s an absolutely amazing feeling.
“I think it’s very simple. It’s because of the feeling I have now, and the feeling I had at the final whistle. That’s what drives you on. I have been very fortunate and very privileged in my career to have so many of those days.
“I’ve had one or two bad days as well so I know the difference between good and bad days.
“I love playing the game, I love training and I love being involved with such a great team of fellas. That drives me on as well.”
Shefflin, injury free after two cruciate knee operations in recent years, will now enjoy a well-earned break before returning to action with his club.
He added, “I just want to be able to sit down this winter and not have an operation to look forward to.
“Last year was a very sweet victory because there were major concerns over whether I would ever get back here again.
“But I think this one just encapsulates my whole career more than anything else and I definitely having to say this is one of the sweetest.”
History was always going to be a factor in the build-up to the replay for Shefflin as he conceded on Sunday.
The Ballyhale Shamrocks man said, “People were looking to talk to me about it and, to be fair, they were saying they’d love to see me win it and I decided I was going to say, ‘Yeah, I’d love to win it.
“There is no point in me hiding from that because it was a great motivation for me. Why would you hide from something so special like that?”
Shefflinwas also quick to praise his team-mates after Kilkenny’s emphatic win.
He stressed, “I’ve played with great players before and great players now and without those team mates I would not have any medals in my pocket.
“Winning the replay was very much about the team and the team performance, and that was the most satisfying thing. I think in the drawn game we did not perform as a team, although we had some good individual performances.
“Today we had a very good team performance, and that has always been the hallmark of this team.”
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody led the tributes to Shefflin at the post-match press conference.
Cody said, “He set the tone from around 1999, I think, to be honest about it, from the point of view of playing senior with Kilkenny.
“He wasn’t just playing forKilkenny, he led for Kilkenny, he fought for Kilkenny and he scrapped for Kilkenny.
Cody believes Shefflin will hang around to try and win a 10th All-Ireland medal next year.
“I haven’t spoken to him yet but I’d be amazed if he isn’t back. You talk about hunger but to me it is very simple and Henry and these players love hurling,”Cody said.
“The thing a lot of people forget when they talk about hunger, about this fella doing this or that, to me it’s very simple - Henryis just in love with the game.”
Kilkennyboss Brian Codywas quick to pay tribute to his other players too.
“It’s a replay, it’s something we have never sampled before. It’s not the first or second Sunday in September, it’s the last Sunday in September,” he said.
“It’s unchartered territory for hurlers and it seemed very strange with the MacCarthy Cup still up for grabs. It was tucked away for three weeks and three weeks is a long time at that stage. It’s about getting ourselves ready and getting back into it.
“We started lively and we started well. We were certainly going well and then we were hit by two goals again and it was as if what’s going to happen after this? But the response was instant and very strong and that was the key to it today. The performance of the team was absolutely outstanding.”
Defender Brian Hogan warned that theCatswill be back for more All-Ireland glory next season after proving their hunger with this success.
Hogan said, “It means everything to us. I won’t lie to you, for the players it is why we come back every January and put in the work.
“You go through the turmoil and the injuries as you see with Michael Rice, because it means everything to us. It is what we live for and it never gets old. Every year it gets better and better. It is fantastic.
“All-Ireland finals are never easily won. Sometimes you can find a big game pass you by at times, it is so fast. You are just conscious of your own job. Every one of us has a job to do and you are just focused in on that and hope the rest will follow.”
GALWAY officials have confirmed that goalkeeper James Skehill and star manJoe Canning struggled with injury in Sunday’s All-Ireland final defeat toKilkenny.
They are also aggrieved by the decision to disallow a second half goal from Damien Hayes.
But manager Anthony Cunningham is realistic enough to know that his team came up against a superb Cats side in the Croke Park replay.
Cunningham said, “I suppose it’s one piece of consolation to be the second best team in Ireland, to this super team. But we’ll stay knocking on the door. We beat them in a Leinster final this year. We’ll want to beat them in an All-Ireland next year, that’ll be the aim.”