Henry Shefflin says Dublin will feel the heat of five-in-a-row
Ballyhale Shamrocks manager insists he is ‘very happy ’ in his club role
Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin during a coaching session at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge at Croke Park. Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
“Jeez, you’re not going to ask me about football, are you?” says Henry Shefflin, as if we’d let him away that easy. Is there a bigger question surrounding the 2019 championship?
He has already talked Kilkenny hurling, club and county, his own role in all that. Yet given his experience on the last team to try and failed to win that elusive senior five-in-a-row in either hurling or football, it was not long until the subject of Dublin football comes up.
Nine years on from Kilkenny’s defeat to Tipperary in the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final, the lost chance to win that record fifth successive All-Ireland, Shefflin admits Dublin will find themselves under pressure unlike any other, and it’s only a matter of time until they realise it.
“I think once it gets to the end, when we get to August or the end of July with the football, that’s when the real heat will come on, and that’s when it does come into your mind,” says Shefflin.
“Up to now it’s there, it’s in the ether. But I think once you get to the semi-final stage then players’ minds come into focus more that that is there. It’ll be interesting to see how they manage it.”
After losing that 2010 All-Ireland, Shefflin came back to win another three titles with Kilkenny, bringing his tally to a record 10; last March he made it All-Ireland number 14, managing his club Ballyhale Shamrocks to the title he had also won three times as a player.
He suggests part of the challenge for Dublin and Jim Gavin is balancing the motivation with the expectation. “It was a huge motivation for me, definitely,” adds Shefflin, speaking in Croke Park at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
“Sure I tried to play [the 2010 final] with no cruciate, and that wasn’t a very smart move. Dublin will take it one game at a time, but that’s my point. At the early stages it’s one game in a row, but then I think once you get to that intensity, and you can see the grandstand finish coming up, that’s when it comes more into focus.
“Especially with it being Dublin, the media attention will absolutely sky-rocket. But, look, they have a good manager, similar to Brian Cody in terms of being able to keep that low key, and the players seem to do that as well.
“It’s about the panel of players as well, and the development of that panel of players is very important. That’s the reason we were successful with the club, we had that bit of youth who brought that bit of freshness and enthusiasm to the older players as well, so we got that balance right.
Sometimes when you are going on a successful run you can stay with what you’re doing, and it can get a bit stale and that’s when you get found out.”
Shefflin’s successful ascent into club management is surprising only in the speed of it. He admits he had little ambition of going straight into the role in December 2017, having finished his club player career earlier that season, but there’ll be no talk of taking over the Kilkenny job. Not yet anyway.
“Look, to be honest I’m very happy where I am. I wanted to go in with Ballyhale to see how it goes, see if I enjoy it, and it was a very enjoyable year with a big learning step so for me.
“But when you talking about the greatest manager of all time in Kilkenny hurling [Brian Cody], I think it’s a bit disrespectful for people to even mention it, for my liking so. People probably know the answer, and that’s where I stand on it.
“At first I did want to get away from it completely, tried that for a little while and I realised, do you know what, hurling is such a part of my life and always will be such a part of my life.
Once you step back from the game, for a year or two, it’s nothing like being involved in the cut and thrust of it as well. So that’s probably why I get drawn back into it. I’m living in Ballyhale; it’s a part of our being down there. So I want to be at the centre of that. But I only had one offer, and that was the club.”
“Down the road it [a county role] probably will appeal to me. But I’ve an awful lot to learn. It’s a massive step-up. It’s like going from being a club player to an intercounty player, the commitment levels is just astronomical.
“That is something you have to take into consideration. Everyone is at different stages in their life cycle. You have to understand where you are.”
That’s not saying Cody doesn’t have a big challenge in front of him, possibly the greatest of his now 21 seasons as Kilkenny manager. Even with the successful Ballyhale players to return, there are doubts about the fitness of Cillian Buckley and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy going into the Leinster Championship, and nothing is about to come easy.
“Brian just loves the challenge, he loves trying to build a team. It’s a different challenge now. He’s never experienced anything like he has at the moment. But I don’t think it’s players, I think it’s the structure, it’s completely new.
“In Leinster last year, after Kilkenny beat Dublin, then the following weekend, Wexford beat Dublin, so everyone knew what the top three was going to be. I think the Leinster Championship’s going to go right down to the end this year.”