Henry Shefflin unlikely to be fit in time for Offaly clash
Groundhog Day for hurling’s most decorated player as stress fracture in his foot means championship goes on hold again
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin at the launch of the Centra All-Ireland Hurling Championship at Croke Park. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
“Groundhog Day,” said Henry Shefflin with a laugh when sitting down to talk to reporters at yesterday’s Centra All-Ireland hurling championship launch in Croke Park.
A year previously – to the day – the most successful hurler in history had announced that a stress fracture in his foot would probably keep him out of Kilkenny’s opening championship match against Offaly and as a result break the continuous sequence of championship appearances, which stretched back to June 20th 1999 when he made his debut against Laois.
Yesterday he was all but confirming that an identical injury would prevent him taking part in the county’s opening championship fixture – also against Offaly – next month.
“More than likely it’s going to be very hard to see me back for the first round to be truthful about it but I’m not ruling myself out.”
The reason for the slightly optimistic note is because, compared to 12 months ago, Shefflin’s injury has been diagnosed at a fairly early stage.
He’s not sure whether the cause was the league final last Sunday week or training two days later but, when walking his daughter to the school bus on Wednesday morning, he noticed a familiar “aching pain” in the left foot, the same one he injured last year.
A couple of days later he had been scanned, seen his consultant and had the foot encased in a protective moon boot.
“It’s around the same area, metatarsal area,” he said yesterday. “Listening to the surgeon when this injury happens, it happens in the same area, the second metatarsal, that’s where most of the pressure goes through. That was basically it, he told me Friday to wear the boot for a couple of weeks.
“What do you do with a stress fracture, you just rest it and you wear the boot then, not to put pressure through your foot.”
The fact that he recognised the ache meant that there was no “swelling or puffiness” around the foot. He’s not sure what caused it but will work with team physical trainer Michael Dempsey and the physiotherapists to isolate precisely what went wrong.
“It had been a busy couple of weeks leading up to it. We had the semi-final, we were training with our clubs, were training for the league final. Maybe that was it. Very hard to know: the ground is getting harder, there are a lot of factors that come into it. It’s just one of these things. He (the consultant) can’t put his finger on it, he just diagnosed it . . . .”
Another advance on last year is that Shefflin has been available for a full league season, culminating in a third successive title for Kilkenny after Tipperary had been defeated in extra time. Looking at last year’s league final when the same two counties met in what was presumed at the time to be a dress rehearsal for September, he acknowledges that there will be no such presumptions this summer.
“Everyone is more experienced this year in the sense that the four teams in the (All-Ireland) semi-finals last year – point in case, we played two of them and the two of them beat us, Dublin and Clare. We didn’t play the other two. I think everyone knows it’s a very open, wide-open championship and it will be very interesting to see what takes place.”
In an interview last autumn just after the All-Ireland final and replay, Shefflin said that he had been struck by the pace of the Clare-Cork matches. It sounded at the time as if he might be contemplating bowing out but he has slightly recanted on those views having played regularly during the league and says that the game always looks more demanding to the spectator than to the participant.
“You say those things, and I’ve said it before that I thought it was a little bit faster – and I said it before I started with Kilkenny – but once you get into it, no it’s not. There’s no difference. It’s still the same game. I feel that once you get back into it, it’s still the same. Different teams play in different ways, but you just go with the way you play yourself.”
This day week he’ll be back in the consulting rooms with the boot off and having the injured foot reassessed. He hasn’t given up on making a swifter than expected return but even if that doesn’t happen he’s confident recovery will be speedier than last year even if the recurrence is frustrating.
“The talk at home, it’s all about the start of the championship. But now thoughts have turned to the injury again, which is frustrating, I suppose. But that’s the hand I’ve been dealt. And I’m in a lot better position this year than I was this time last year, I would feel.”