When future Barry Heffernan sits down to reflect on his hurling career, he will surely point to 2019 as the year it all changed for him.
The 24-year-old was first added to the Tipperary senior hurling squad in 2014 but due to a frustrating mixture of competition and injuries, it was 2016 before Heffernan made his debut. He won his second Munster medal that year and his first All-Ireland title but remained as an unused substitute for both the provincial final and the All-Ireland decider against Killkenny.
A spate of appearances followed in 2017 and 2018, but it wasn’t until Tipperary’s trouncing of Clare in this year’s Munster Championship that Heffernan firmly made his mark in the team’s half-back line. From there, Heffernan starred in Tipperary’s run to their third All-Ireland title of the decade with the only blip coming in the Munster final against Limerick.
“No, not a hope”, Heffernan said when asked if he would have expected this 12 months ago.
“If someone told me last year that the year was going to end like this I would have told you you’re mad. It was a great year and a dream come true, so just an unbelievable year.”
The Nenagh man was particularly impressive when he was again handed a starting jersey in Tipperary’s titanic battle against Wexford when he succeeded in keeping Lee Chin relatively quiet from open play.
Having been on a merry-go-round from starting positions to the bench, it took words of encouragement from Liam Sheedy to keep Heffernan’s confidence and self-belief up.
“Liam was very supportive all year. He just kept saying, ‘Stay going and stay being patient, everybody will be needed throughout this championship.’ A person of Liam’s experience you have to listen to him and that’s what I did.
“A week before the Wexford game he said, ‘I’m thinking about playing you next week.’ Then I was lucky enough to get the nod and it went okay after that.”
Sheedy’s motivational skills are well known in the sporting world but for the players who have never worked under him before, it is a memorable experience. For Heffernan, that moment was summed up in a photo after the Clare game.
“That’s probably Liam’s greatest trait, he’d give you an unbelievable amount of confidence in yourself. That is a very memorable picture for me because it was just Liam giving you confidence about the day and going forward and to drive it on.”
2019 was also the year in which Heffernan feels he silenced his critics. Standing at 6″2, height has never been an issue for him but fans were never slow in letting him know that his physicality wasn’t up to scratch.
“Oh yeah, definitely”, he replies when asked if he enjoyed proving people wrong.
“That was something that I have developed on this year, use my physicality a bit more. It was something that I worked on the whole year and it was nice to put a silence to it.
“It probably would have been one of my biggest flaws. I was aware of that as well that I was probably a bit pure in hurling and it was something that I had to improve on if I wanted to play for Tipperary.”
It’s a promising time for hurling in the Premier County. They boast the current Hurler of the Year as their captain, there is a wealth of talent coming through from the All-Ireland winning U20 side and perhaps most importantly, Sheedy has confirmed he will be at the helm for the 2020 season.
However, the side only received their 2019 All-Ireland last weeks so thoughts of an assault on next year’s championship are not being entertained yet.
“We haven’t really looked at 2020 yet to be honest.
“Liam is very well respected in Tipperary for everything he has done. With a man like Liam, you just have to listen to everything he says and I think everybody would do anything for Liam now.”
Wexford’s Lee Chin, Limerick’s Diarmaid Byrnes, Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy and Tipperary’s Barry Heffernan were at Aer Lingus Hangar 6 at Dublin Airport this morning where Aer Lingus, in partnership with the GAA & GPA, unveiled a one-of-a-kind customised playing kit for the New York Hurling Classic which takes place at Citi Field in New York on November 16th.
Aer Lingus will once again be the Official Airline of the event and will be responsible for flying the four teams to New York. Aer Lingus is Ireland’s only 4-Star airline and has been involved in the Hurling Classic on three previous occasions where it has been played at Fenway Park in 2015, 2017 & 2018.