Henry Shefflin’s role an intriguing sideshow as Cody keeps his focus on main prize
Cats boss has used his legendary star sparingly this season and continues to prioritise the team – and All-Ireland glory
“Twitter carried the news that Henry was available to play in the semi-final game against Galway. Brian, though, not one of the Twiteratti I’d guess, held him in reserve.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.
So there we have it. Kilkenny and Tipperary meet again.
In 2010 Tipp smothered Kilkenny’s ‘drive for five’ with a very convincing final performance.
The Cats came back to life and in 2013 were on the way to total domination again as they headed for another three titles in a row. But their season never got off the ground and we were fairly sure that life number nine had been all but extinguished and that this golden era was over.
That said, I don’t think anybody believed Henry Shefflin or Brian Cody would call it a day at year’s end. They were never going to exit on such a negative note with the memory of the defeat by Cork and Henry’s dismissal just before half-time in Thurles as the final contributions of their historic careers.
Cody, as usual, made his early winter proclamation that he would be staying on as team manager for a 16th year. Henry duly intimated that he was going nowhere either.
Indeed, he marked his return to the Kilkenny colours in late January with a haul of 0-13 as Brian Cody’s men ran riot in the second half against Galway at Freshford to qualify for a Walsh Cup final meeting with Dublin. Shefflin knocked over 12 frees, including 10 in a second half which saw the Cats outscore the visiting Tribesmen 0-19 to 0-3.
Master classHowever, he didn’t line out in the final against Dublin a week later. Cody explained that he was fine and that he was trying out other players in the wide open spaces of Croke Park. We didn’t have to wait long to find out if rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
On the league’s opening day Shefflin delivered a master class in free-taking, dance moves and determination against All-Ireland champions Clare. He played like a rookie who needed to make a statement to the boss rather than the most decorated hurler the game has ever seen.
On their second league outing, Henry contributed 1-5 in a high-scoring thriller against the old enemy Tipperary in late February.
In the third round BC didn’t even name him in the match -day 26 and the following Saturday night he was introduced in the second half against Dublin in Parnell Park, a game that Kilkenny lost. It was fairly obvious that this legend was being carefully managed and certainly not being overplayed.
Henry played the full 70 minutes in the Cats’ demolition of Waterford and was involved in much that was impressive about that team display.
But in the quarter final against neighbours Wexford he wasn’t started by the Great One and was introduced for a little bit of game time, with a pantheon of other greats, namely Michael Fennelly, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and Aidan Fogarty.
The Kilkenny juggernaut gathered a bit of speed as it rolled out of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Easter Sunday after putting in a top class second half which left Galway reeling. Shefflin put in a big performance from the left corner forward position. He also had four points from play to his name on the score sheet.
The league final on the May weekend was a different matter though. We saw a quite subdued Henry, lining out at number 15, not getting on the scoring list at all and being substituted in the second half.
His young Tipperary marker Cathal Barrett had him in his pocket (as the saying goes). He’ll have some story for the grandkids. So as we left Thurles on that Sunday evening we wondered was time finally begin to catch up on this hurling superstar and would the summer sod just be too fast for him this year. Maybe Brian did too.
And there soon came news of a similar injury to the one that affected him at the same time last year. A stress fracture of the second metatarsal in his left foot last season, which ended an unbroken run of 59 championship matches, dating back to 1999.
He suffered a recurrence of the fracture in that league final victory which he exacerbated at training the following Tuesday. That ruled him out of the meeting with Offaly in early June. But Kikenny, without Henry, put 5-32 on the scoreboard as they ran riot.
In reserveTwitter carried the news that Henry was available to play in the semi-final game against Galway. Brian, though, not one of the Twiteratti I’d guess, held him in reserve and decided on giving him the last ten minutes with Kilkenny well in the driving seat. Galway, however, wrestled back control of that same seat, and with added time almost up and the game heading for a replay, Henry regained control with a super strike from the sideline to nudge the Cats ahead. Joe Canning evened up the score with an even better strike and we headed back to Tullamore for the rematch.
But Henry was kept in reserve again and only saw action for the last ten minutes in a game that Kilkenny never really looked like losing, such was their passion from the off.
The Cats dominated the Leinster final against Dublin and Henry saw action again for the last 15 minutes – scoring three points. Not a bad return for a cameo appearance.
The team chosen for the All-Ireland semi-final didn’t contain the name Shefflin. He wore jersey number 21 and got 20 minutes in a bit of a deluge and with space and time at a premium he didn’t really get a chance to make a meaningful contribution . But Kilkenny won and he is now on the brink of creating another bit of hurling history.
His has been a career of high scores, multiple medals, awards, accolades and injury.
Now he’s on the cusp of adding to his historical achievements. But whatever about the spin for ‘Henry’s ten’, Cody and his management will do what’s best for the team and victory. Of that you can be certain . Roll on September 7th.