Full transcript: ‘Players from weaker counties, they’re the ones I tip my hat to’

Henry’s Shefflin’s farewell: The full transcript of that final media press conference

Henry Shefflin, the most decorated player in GAA history announces his retirement from inter county hurling at a packed press conference in Kilkenny where media were joined by family, friends and fans of the hurler. Video : Bryan O'Brien

 

HOW’S YOUR BODY GENERALLY NOW?

“I wouldn’t have aches and pains getting out of bed. I’m in very good shape to be honest. I got a little knock on my shoulder before the All-Ireland which set me back a little but physically wise I’m in very good shape. You would be afraid some of the old injuries would come back to haunt you. The thing at my age is you’re so susceptible to getting some of those injuries but otherwise I’m in good shape. Physically wise and fitness wise, I’ve had a very good run of training. I’m very happy in that space.”

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT LAST SUNDAY’S GAME THAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO?

“It wasn’t anything about the game itself. I think it’s just the realisation had came. I’d met Brian on Friday. Saturday I was becoming more comfortable with it, I was thinking this is the right thing.

“Come Sunday then, even though I hadn’t (decided), I was just looking at the match and seeing Kevin Kelly and some of the newer players Jonjo Farrell, and I was saying, I remember when I started. I think it’s time for myself. I just felt it was the correct time. My heart was saying I’d love to go back but I think my head had come to terms that now was the correct time.

“It wasn’t anything specifically, it was just that I was looking in as a supporter more as ‘that’s my team, I’m going back to it’.”

WHEN YOU MET BRIAN ON FRIDAY, YOU HADN’T MADE UP YOUR MIND?

“No I hadn’t. The match was Tuesday. So Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday I wasn’t thinking about it, they were about celebrating. We’d a few good days in Ballyhale celebrating the great victory we had. I woke up Thursday morning and I realised now I needed to reflect.

“I spoke to yourselves on Tuesday and said I was going to see but before when the club campaign was going, I was very much in the bubble. When I reflect on it now, I was very much in the bubble of I’m still training, I’m preparing, can this go on for a few months. But the minute the campaign ended, I think my mind just went, with each passing day I reflected on it, the more I felt more comfortable with it.

“You have to be selfish, Brian said that to me and I said that myself. Do what’s right for yourself. I feel that this is totally what’s right for myself.”

DID YOU NOT THINK ABOUT IT AFTER LEINSTER CLUB FINAL?

“Ah yeah, of course it would have flashed into your mind. Next thing JJ would have retired and you’re going, ‘Jesus’. It would be. But I speak to a couple of people that very much help me and support me, their advice would have been just keep it balanced, 50-50 the whole way and just see. I put my focus on the club campaign.”

HOW WILL YOU FILL THE YEAR?

“I haven’t had time to think about that. Obviously my book will be coming. That’s something I have to work on. After that I don’t know. I’ll help out with under-age teams in Ballyhale.”

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO HAVE RED CARD RESCINDED IN 2013?

“Brian was the one who wanted me to do that? He was probably thinking ahead to the following year, if I happened to get a yellow card again. It was important because I’d only been sent off in one game before - a minor club championship. I knew I didn’t do that much wrong (against Cork in 2013)”

2014 ALL-IRELAND WIN? WAS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT IT THAT TRIGGERED SO MANY RETIREMENTS?

“No, but I think when lads reflected, they all made their own decisions on what was right for them. The time comes when it’s right to call it a day. Time waits for no man.

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A FUTURE MANAGER?

“It’s very hard to say. I wouldn’t rule anything out. Definitely not. I’m not going to sit here and say ‘yeah, I’m looking at managing.’ Because it’s a very tough job, as we all know.

“I very much want to continue to enjoy hurling with Ballyhale and I want to, I suppose, give something back to the club, for the time being.

“Then, when you get a bit older and you kind of realise then that the children will be a bit older and a bit more independent, then you could see - because it’s a very time consuming thing.

“I think hurling is going to play a part in my life. I’m very grateful for the opportunity it has given me heretofore. I would hope that there would be more opportunities coming out of it.”

IS THERE MORE IN CURRENT BALLYHALE TEAM?

Second Captains

“I wouldn’t say that either. Again, our age profile is very high. But we have a team that there are opportunities there. And I think it’s only fair that I go back and play with my club and put in the summer going down to training when there is 12 or 13 lads down there.

“They’ve done it for long enough when I’ve been off with the county.”

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES IN HURLING SINCE YOU STARTED?

“I suppose the strength and conditioning is number one. The level of strength and conditioning now is just phenomenal. I suppose the speed and the fitness levels. There were always players when we went back first who were very unfit. Now it’s an all-year round thing.

IS THERE AS MUCH ENJOYMENT?

“Yeah, you look at the match last Tuesday (All-Ireland club final) and the amount of space that was available. I think there is. Tactics have come more into it but I think we’re very lucky and fortunate in hurling that the ball travels so fast.

“I think it is so enjoyable. The media attention, as you can see today, is higher as well, which again, is good for the profile of the game.

“It’s easy for me to say and it’s hard to come across in a statement, but I’m very fortunate that I’m from Kilkenny and we’ve had so much success. For the other players putting in the effort from the weaker counties, they’re the ones I really tip my hat to.

“For me the highlight was when I was speaking to Brian about retiring on Monday evening. We had a general chit-chat afterwards, saying it was phenomenal what we have achieved, etc.

“He was very complimentary to me and one of the nicest things he said to me - and for me, as I talk to young kids going around the place - was, ‘Henry, you’ve got the very best out of yourself,’ and for me that is what I would hope I would always try and do.

“I didn’t go out every day and get the very best out of myself, no doubt about it. But over my career: my parents are here today and when I was 16 or 17 did they think we were going to have an occasion like today? And when you hear the figures Ned’s talking about, the success we’ve had? I didn’t.

“I’ve obviously got the best out of myself on the field of play and I hope I’ve learned something from that that I’ll transfer off the field of play. That, for me, has been the best.”

IS THERE ANY REGRET?

“Of course there is: Playing in that All-Ireland in 2010 (against Tipperary after injuring his cruciate). 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 but overall, that’s about the whole learning experience of it.

“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?’ As I get older I realised that I really did need to experience and embrace the whole occasion and all that goes with being part of this.”

WHAT WERE THE ARGUMENTS FOR STAYING ON?

“I’m in good physical condition. There’s a good opportunity of Kilkenny being successful. It’s March time now, there are 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, you do look at 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.”

WAS 2012 THE SWEETEST YEAR?

“Yeah, people don’t realise that. I remember playing that match against Dublin, the first round of the championship on the Tuesday night before the match and going down, pucking the ball off the gable wall.

“I couldn’t move my hands, my shoulder was still very much bothering me. I remember going into training the following night and I couldn’t train. Brian was like, ‘what if this happens on Saturday?’ “And the realisation was coming, ‘Jesus, maybe you’re going to miss a championship match and you’re not going to be part of it’. So to come from there to where I got come the end of the year, to win nine All-Irelands that year, Hurler of the Year as well, was just phenomenal.

“That day something happened inside me that it’s very hard to describe. I felt like I was out there on my own. The ball used to go down the line and I was running after the ball - I just wanted to keep playing. That’s a feeling that sports people I don’t think we achieve it apart from once or twice in our careers. It was a special day.

“I’ve had matches, semi-finals where I’ve scored a lot more - I think I scored one point from play that day - but it was just that everything I stood for transcended itself that day.”

WAS IT MONDAY YOU FORMALLY TOLD BRIAN CODY?

“Monday evening. I had a chat last Friday and Brian told me to go ahead and reflect and that’s what I did, come the weekend. Obviously I had to go to work on Monday morning but knew and I just had to organise today’s event so Brian was the first person I rang to tell and I spoke to Ned then, afterwards. That was really it.”

HOW DOES THE FAMILY FEEL?

“Deirdre would love me to still be playing because she really enjoys the whole thing as well. I think everybody is very comfortable. I think even since the news broke I think everyone has said, ‘yeah, he’s 100 per cent right, so I think that was the feeling, that it was the correct time.

“People ask me, ‘are you emotional’ and things like that and that was one of the emotional parts of it. We have our WhatsApp group and they’d be slagging me about social media. I sent them a message out in the car park.

“I used to be very sad when I used to look up the messages when one of the lads has left the group and the next minute there’s a lovely message from him saying, ‘thanks very much for everything’. I had to do that at half eleven out in the car park in Langton’s today. That was very sad.

“I wouldn’t be here today without those lads. We’ve so many good memories on and off the field of play and I’m going to miss them so that was the only emotional thing about it, saying goodbye to the lads.”

DO YOU FEEL A WEIGHT HAS BEEN LIFTED?

“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. That’s the way I very much feel. I feel humbled by the experiences I had and very content with the decisions I made.

“I didn’t expect today’s event but so be it.”

WAS BRIAN CODY EMOTIONAL?

“I think ye know the answer to that question!”

WHAT ABOUT HIS INFLUENCE?

“I mention him very fondly because he’s moulded me in to the player I’ve become. He gave me my opportunity and played me in game - obviously I’d love to have been playing last year, no doubt about it - but he played me in games where he probably shouldn’t. That’s over a career and for me he’s the greatest GAA manager of all time - I’ve only had one obviously!

“He has been and what he has done for me and Kilkenny has been phenomenal so I couldn’t speak highly enough of him. As you know, it’s not that he does any rocket science; it’s his whole way. I’ve had a great relationship right up until Monday night and I look forward to that continuing in the future.”

IS THIS A SURREAL EVENT FOR A GAA PLAYER?

“It feels very good to be honest. I was sitting at home today preparing for this event and I didn’t know what to expect. That’s thanks to yourselves because obviously you’ve built it up so much.

“It’s been wonderful. As I’ve said, I got so many opportunities off the field of play, met so many brilliant people, and as well as that I’ve met so many people who have suffered tragedy who depend on GAA, depend on the people of the GAA. I’ve had some influence on them and brought some enjoyment into lives of people who have suffered tragedies.

“For me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s great and the opportunities I’ve got have been phenomenal. It is a bit crazy to be honest; I’m an amateur GAA player and I was playing with Ballyhale and I’ll go back there training and there will be no one there to witness it. I look forward to that as well.”

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