Time for new characters to commandeer centre stage
Shefflin, Cooper and Neymar cast long shadows from which fledgling heroes must emerge
For Kilkenny it’s a slightly different situation. Shefflin is still around, of course, and they have had the luxury in recent weeks of being able to introduce Shefflin at key moments towards the end of the game, most notably when he hit that last minute point against Galway that looked to have won it for them the first day in Tullamore.
In 2012, Kilkenny were hopelessly dependent on Shefflin. At the time, with Shefflin heading for his ninth All-Ireland medal, it was crazy that Kilkenny were depending on him more that year than perhaps they had ever previously done.
The idea surely when you win nine All-Ireland medals is that you’re good enough to be the decisive factor in the first five or six, and that your team-mates win you the last three.
Shefflin inverted that completely – looking back from the vantage point of the 2012 All-Ireland final replay, the longer he went on, the more important he seemed to get.
They looked a tired team throughout the championship last year, and an injury-hit Shefflin in the end wasn’t able to pull them through as he had been able to 12 months before.
Kilkenny have had plenty of big characters in the backline over the years, but from midfield up, Shefflin was the sun, and the supporting cast were the moon – capable of illuminating an occasion from time to time, but it was a reflected light they were shining.
Did Shefflin’s red card against Cork last July finally bring it home to these Kilkenny players that they were at some stage going to have to live life without him? Either way, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid in particular have stepped up to the challenge.
Reid is a clubmate of Shefflin’s in Ballyhale, and so has spent his entire career operating in his shadow. The idea out there may be of Reid as a callow youth, thrust into the spotlight... but this is the thing about this Kilkenny team.
For TJ Reid, and for James O’Donoghue, and for Willian or Ramires or Hulk 6000 miles away, the time has come to step out from the shadows and take on the mantle of being the main man – three communities hopelessly in love with their sports, demand it.