Shefflin shoulders his responsibilities again
BACK ON a Monday night in June Henry Shefflin was staring into the abyss. He went down to the wall to hit a few sliotars but was forced home without a bead of sweat on his brow.
“I couldn’t puck a ball because my shoulder was at me,” said Shefflin.
That was six days before Kilkenny faced Dublin in their opening Leinster championship game.
“To come from that stage, getting scans between the Dublin and Galway match, my mind wasn’t totally in it. I was more concerned about the shoulder, probably.
“I decided to put all those things in the past and concentrate on hurling. That’s what I have done.”
That’s what he has always done. Shefflin has never missed a championship match since his debut in 1999. He finishes this campaign as top scorer, with 3-56, and his influence in yesterday’s replay was simply a continuation of his epic showing in the September 9th draw.
Even considering so many Kilkenny hurlers raised their performance levels yesterday to snare a ninth All-Ireland title in the Brian Cody era, which is also the Shefflin era, this game was still about the greatest of them all.
It was put to Brian Cody that Shefflin set the tone and the rest followed.
“He set the tone from around 1999 to be honest about it,” Cody replied. “That’s the ‘early on’ when he set the tone; from the point he started playing senior hurling for Kilkenny.
“He hasn’t just played for Kilkenny, he has done everything for Kilkenny. He has led for Kilkenny, he has fought for Kilkenny, he has scraped for Kilkenny. His work-rate is just immense.
“Everybody raved about him the last day, and rightly so, the way he came out and just led from the front, when we were under severe pressure. Today there he was, just working, working, working.
Kilkenny board secretary Ned Quinn last night helpfully pulled Shefflin away from a quiet drink in the players lounge with Joe Canning.
A gentleman to his gills, he was quick to note that Noel Hickey joins him on nine All-Ireland medals, and the old warhorse featured as a blood substitute after Cyril Donnellan was red carded for spitting open JJ Delaney’s ceann.
But it is Shefflin who surpassed two of hurling’s greatest names yesterday – Cork’s Christy Ring and John Doyle from Tipperary. His recently retired team-mate Eddie Brennan also has eight medals and another Kilkenny great Noel Skehan won nine from 1968 to 1985, six on the field.
But Shefflin stands alone. Of course, hurling will demand the drive for 10. As he does of himself.
“If the body will let me back again.”
Now aged 33, his influence in this final cannot be overstated. He registered 0-9, two 65s and five frees, but there was also the 14th-minute scoop and strike and his 25th-minute drive from distance.
The young bloods also profited from his vision as Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley pointed after assists through maroon traffic.
Criticised publicly by Canning for unsportsmanlike behaviour after the draw, he uses his stature as a weapon. When Niall O’Donoghue went down, stalling Kilkenny’s 1-7 run without reply, referee James McGrath was cajoled until some action was taken.
All told, this victory must be the sweetest?
“Last year was a very sweet victory because of the injury more than anything else – there were major concerns whether I would get back there again – but this one just encapsulates my whole career more than anything else.
“As well as that, if you had of spoke to me after the Galway match in the Leinster final I would have had serious question marks about myself, let alone Kilkenny, so to reach this one now after some of the performances during the summer I would have to say is definitely the sweetest. To win the ninth medal, myself and Noel, is a special feeling as well.”
After what Galway did to Kilkenny in the Leinster final and considering their battle with Father Time, this must be their greatest ever day?
“Galway really showed us the last two days what we really needed to do. To be fair, Brian and the management team must take great kudos because they made some serious changes. Aidan Fogarty and Colin Fennelly were very unlucky to lose out. I think the man marking we did the last day probably worked to a certain extent and they decided to go away from that. That move alone . . . Brian wanted us to go to play the way we always have under his stewardship. I think we did that today.”
See you in 2013 so?
“I dunno. I want to be able to sit down this winter and not have an operation to look forward to. I want to do that. At my stage of my career you are always reviewing and evaluating. I’d love to be back again. . .”
Cody, asked the same question, said: “I’d be amazed if you don’t.”