Tipperary's 'unsung hero' goes about the business quietly
As the ancient proverb goes, the quiet man is the most dangerous man in the room.
It was during the 2019 championship, when after a couple of years on the fringes, Barry Heffernan bit the bullet and made himself undroppable. As Tipperary slipped in the back-door, the Nenagh Éire Óg club man left that reputation as a squad player behind him to become a permanent fixture on this team.
His coming of age came on All-Ireland semi-final day against Wexford, when Heffernan was tidy, effective and he was almost foot perfect. That game is almost two years ago now and Tipperary haven't started a championship game without him since.
On Saturday evening, the 25-year-old was at his efficient and influential best as he knocked over 0-2 from distance, cleaned up a whole host of messy situations but above all, held the marauding Darragh Fitzgibbon to just a point and not much else from open play.
That's why, as he cements his reputation as a solid if unspectacular defender, Heffernan was lauded on Monday's GAA Hour as the player of the weekend.
"Other lads will get the headlines but whatever job they give him," says former Kilkenny defender Paul Murphy.
"Barry Heffernan will just go out and do it. He's very consistent and he solves a lot of problems for Liam Sheedy because Sheedy knows that he can put him anywhere. Similar enough to Padraig Walsh with Kilkenny or Chris Crummey with Dublin, he'll go out and do a job for you in that position. He's an unsung hero of that Tipperary team, and such an important job too, in keeping Darragh Fitzgibbon out of the game."
"Exactly. Not one of the so-called stars of the Tipperary team, but he's so solid, he's a real unsung hero," added Colm Parkinson.
Hurling people are pissed off...it's hard to blame them.
- Mark Coleman hurls from a different planet
- Gearoid Hegarty is a force of nature
- Tipperary going away from a lifetime's tradition
- Soft frees, no flow...where do we go now?
🎧 https://t.co/K79wZNiUCN 🎧 pic.twitter.com/AJ2S6teVdB
— The GAA Hour (@TheGAAHour) May 17, 2021
He may not have the fire of Cathal Barrett or the power of Paudie Maher but Heffernan is just as influential, and that's all Liam Sheedy will care about.
As Heffernan coasts through the gears, at times in the opening stages of this National League campaign appear, those around him appear to be stuck in neutral. A change in styles could be the reason for that, though Colm Parkinson can see exactly why Tipperary have switched up to what might be called a Limerick way of doing things, with the midfield crowded and with short, crisp passing the only way forward.
"Sean Flynn (hurling coach) messaged me on Twitter and he went through 82 games during the first lock-down in the '17, '18 and '19 championships. He looked at the retention rates of passes hit into the opposition and they were only winning 3/10...The reality is and traditionalists might not like it, but why are you just going to give it away?"
Paul Murphy sees the value in it.
"When teams sit down for meetings, they're not asking how do we look on the pitch, they're asking where can we get better and improve. Tipperary will be looking at Limerick - they can beat the other teams - but Limerick have constantly caused them problems.
Michael Carton, on the other hand, says that Tipperary are at their best when they're playing the game on their terms.
"To me, this game-plan doesn't suit Tipperary hurling. That game where they're trying to match it up with Limerick, it just doesn't suit them as well. I remember Lar Corbett chasing Tommy Walsh around the pitch. That thing doesn't suit them. Sheedy needs to find a balance between letting them go out and play, and managing that Limerick half back line. But it's not clicking for Tipp at the moment.