Curtain comes down on hurling’s leading light Henry Shefflin
Decorated star only made up his mind watching Kilkenny play Clare last weekend
Henry Shefflin addressing the assembled media: “Of course you’d love to keep going but I’m 36 not 26 and I knew that day was coming.” Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It mightn’t have been the theatre of his specific dreams but it was in a way appropriate that the curtain came down on Henry Shefflin’s record-breaking inter-county career on stage of the Set Theatre in Langton’s Hotel, Kilkenny.
Before a large gathering of media and members of the public, modern hurling’s most iconic figure took his leave of the game at its top level, a decision he said he had reached last weekend watching Kilkenny play Clare.
He spoke about how it had crossed his mind last September when picking up an 10th All-Ireland medal after a subdued championship of being no longer first-choice.
“You’re up there last September and it’s a year away, anything can happen, and there’s a realisation that this could be the last one. That’s happened to me for the last couple of years, so I’m absolutely delighted I got another couple of All-Irelands out of it.”
“I’m very comfortable because there is pressure playing with Kilkenny, pressure being Henry Shefflin. Of course there is. And pressure of ‘will he stay or will he go?’ I’m very comfortable with and happy in my decision – I said in the statement, personally contented.”
This has been a long-running saga. Ever since last September’s All-Ireland the question has been asked and he acknowledged that he had been grateful for Ballyhale’s run in the club championship, which was deployed as a barrier against having to find an answer. That obstacle was removed last week when he played in a third All-Ireland club winning side and afterwards undertook to come to a decision within a week.
He met Kilkenny manager Brian Cody last Friday.
“He very much said ‘you’re welcome back with open arms but it’s very much your own decision’. He didn’t tell me to go and he didn’t tell me to stay; he left it open to myself and he gave me that option of coming back . . .
“I’m in good physical condition. There’s a good opportunity of Kilkenny being successful. It’s March time now; there’s only a few months to go. And, you know, your heart telling you, you don’t want to let go. They were very much the arguments for staying on.
“Then you were like, ‘Is now the best time to go? You’re 36 years of age. It’s a great opportunity’. There were so many other things that, on a positive side as well, and just when I weighed them all up, now was the correct time to make the decision.”
“And as well – do you want to go in and be a sub and not play? All those things come into it. I’m not going to be human if I didn’t say that so you look and you say, ‘Is there an opportunity for yourself to be sitting on the bench and maybe not playing?’ I love playing the game, that’s what I love doing so all those things, you weigh up all those things and you make the right decision for yourself then.”
When asked about regrets he identified the 2010 All-Ireland final but in an ambivalent reflection on the day that Tipperary denied Kilkenny an unprecedented five successive All-Irelands, he didn’t identify his performance as much as the decision to play after damaging his cruciate.
“Of course there is regret. Playing in that All-Ireland in 2010. If I was back again would I do it? No, I wouldn’t. I myself would but Brian and the medical team would probably say, ‘No, it’s not the right thing to do’.
“And I’m sure there were matches where I didn’t perform. There were occasions where I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should, where I put too much pressure on myself and all those kind of things . . . When I was younger I probably didn’t enjoy the success as much. I just moved onto the next year and said, ‘What do I have to do now to get ready?’
Breaking with the playing group and training, he said was the hardest part. Coming into Langton’s on random spring nights with the business of the season still on the horizon was something that he’d most miss.
Time for new horizons.
“Of course you’d love to keep going but I’m 36 not 26 and I knew that day was coming. Being a sub last year was difficult, it was totally new to me, and I’ve spoken about it. But I very much enjoyed the year. Come the end of it Kilkenny were successful and I played a part, as did the other players.”