Shefflin sets his sights on further garlands before final curtain beckons
Kilkenny legend intent on making the most of every opportunity before his incredible career draws to a close
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin: “Obviously Brian is drilling it into the lads to use the ball intelligently. It’s not anything scientific but that’s what we should always be doing.” Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Of the countless records piled up against Henry Shefflin’s name, his number of All-Ireland semi-final appearances is arguably at once the most remarkable and most mundane of the lot.
If and when he sees action on Sunday, it will be the 16th time he has taken the stage for the year’s penultimate act. Okay, not so mundane for ordinary hurlers. But in Brian Cody’s words, Shefflin is not an ordinary hurler.
When you know there isn’t a lot of distance left to run, you feel the thought you put into each step. Shefflin and Kilkenny weren’t here this time last year and there’s every chance he’ll have melted back into civilian life come this time next year. So every day counts, even days like the last one against Dublin where he picked up a Leinster title for the 13th time in his career.
“It was great obviously to be playing in Croke Park, first of all, to be back there again and I suppose for Kilkenny to win was absolutely special as well. So it was great to be part of something in terms of winning again. Obviously my opportunities to win honours are diminishing every month, so it was great to be part of it and great to participate, to come on and get a few scores.”
TimescalesWhen he talks of timescales in terms of months, the antennae twitch just by reflex. You know there’s no point in asking but you can’t not. Any decision made yet, Henry?
“No, I haven’t. I would say you probably know the answer. I always say, ‘Come the end of the year’. I would think I won’t be saying that much more, to be honest. I know it’s very, very close now but I will review it at the end of the year and see what way I’m feeling.
“You know the next two months, please God, or the next three months for myself and for Kilkenny and for Ballyhale are going to be important and then I’ll look at it. I’d be a fool to say otherwise before then.”
If it is to be his last season in stripes, it’s been nothing like the ones that went before. All three of his appearances so far have been off the bench, twice against Galway and in the Leinster final. Kilkenny are changing and have been all year.
“For Brian, the big thing this year was to strengthen the panel of players. The amount of players that have been used already this year, it’s crazy. And for them all to compare that to last year, the amount of championship minutes under their belt – and high-intensity matches, pressure matches. That’s what those players need and it will stand to them. It will stand to them throughout their career.
“I think the atmosphere is very positive this year because I think the players know that no matter what, and we’ve seen it, if players are showing form in training they will be playing.
On their toes “So I think that keeps everyone on their toes, it keeps serious competition there but as well for players on the extended panel, they can see the light. They can see there are opportunities here. Obviously that creates a very good, a very positive atmosphere in the camp.”
Different this year to others?
“Well, last year like there were a lot of injuries and we were struggling along. In hindsight then you can say players were struggling – they were struggling for form, struggling with injuries. But we didn’t know that until the year was over, unfortunately.
“Because if you had spoken to us this time last year – well, we obviously would have been gone this time last year – but before that we would have been saying, ‘No, everything is good, everything is great’. So you live in the moment, I think. Definitely now in hindsight you would say that things are a lot more positive.”
Kilkenny’s style of play has been revamped. Not a major overhaul, more a touching up. In Shefflin’s eyes, it was inevitable given how the game has been played over the past few seasons.
Use of the ball“I think in subtle ways obviously, yes I would think so. Because the quality of the use of the ball is a bit different now, they are trying to use it more. But I think we would have always tried to do that. We didn’t execute it very well last year because I’d say we didn’t have the ball a lot of the time.
“But I think it’s very much how the game is gone. Richie and TJ and these guys are getting serious possession and obviously Brian is drilling it into the lads to use the ball intelligently. It’s not anything scientific but that’s what we should always be doing. And there are times we should be direct. It’s just to do it at the right time.”
Years come and go and styles change as personnel changes. The Kilkenny of 2014 is different to that of 2007.
Can’t but be.
“Yeah, probably,” says Shefflin. “Because we had some very good aerial players then who were winning puck-outs and you had some lads inside who could do it. So I think it’s very much the dynamic of the team as well and obviously tactics have come into it more and there’s extra sweepers back.
“If you’re banging high balls down and the ball is breaking, there’s a better chance of the defence getting it.
“So all these kind of things do come into it at the end of the day and I suppose when you have players of that quality that can pinpoint a player, stick in his hand, why not do it?”