Ballyhale Shamrocks collected a historic eighth All-Ireland club title in Croke Park on Sunday with a narrow three-point victory over Borris-Ileigh but manager Henry Shefflin admitted it was also “a very sad day”.
Like Borris-Ileigh, Ballyhale have experienced much tragedy, losing two players – Eoin Doyle and Eugene Aylward – who would have otherwise been lining out with the panel for the memorable victory.
While Shefflin was revelling in their success, he took a moment to remember the pair and praised the GAA for their treatment of the grieving families.
“I think as joyous as an occasion as it is today it’s a very sad day as well. There’s no doubt about it, to do back to back you have to have serious desire and want.
“I think Eugene’s Aylward passing last year has given them that want and desire. They wanted to do something special and have that jersey with them. We had a photo inside last year of Eoin’s (Doyle) jersey. As some of ye might be aware, Eugene’s jersey, number 19, wasn’t seen all year, but it was inside with them in the dressing-room.
“We got a picture with that jersey and the Cup and I think that’s a great reflection of what the lads wanted to achieve today.
“I know there is a lot of negativity in the press at the moment about the GAA and calendars and everything like this, but I must recognise today the Doyle and Aylward family and the Cullen family – Eoin Doyle and Eugene’s family were offered tickets by the GAA, a box, and they are all up there together. I’m sure very emotional and sad that their two boys are not there – but I think it was a great token by the GAA.
“That’s what makes it special. We can nitpick and this and that but behind it all, when they had those tragedies, when Borris-Ileigh had their tragedies, who do you turn to? You turn to your friends in the GAA community. I’m just delighted they were all up there today. Again, I think the two lads were shining down on us.”
Borris-Ileigh’s 33-year wait for All-Ireland glory continues as they were left to rue missed opportunities in the final. Jerry Kelly was their main supplier with seven points to his name but with TJ Reid also in fine form, Ballyhale took a four-point lead into the break and never looked back.
Shefflin was quick to credit Reid and the rest of the group’s leaders for getting them over the line but singled out Michael Fennelly in particular.
“I thought this time last year that it was his last day, to be honest. When he got a serious knee injury he was off for four months. I was in contact with him and he was humming and hawing so I knew there was a glimmer of hope.
“I think he’s minding himself very well and the word has been used before – he’s a warrior. He just keeps in there. That long 37-inch hurl swinging over someone’s shoulder to get the flick or a touch in and just the physical strength of the man and the way he’s managed himself with the double jobbing in Offaly and dealing with Johnny Kelly as well.
“In the last couple of weeks it’s been noticeable, his focus and his performance against Slaughtneil was a little bit off and he wanted to put it right. I thought he was a brilliant rock in the centre of our defence there today.”