Henry Shefflin ready to call time on his own terms
One of the greatest players in the history of hurling will bow out in Kilkenny on Wednesday
Henry Shefflin’s decision to call time – at the age of 36, with a record 10 All-Ireland medals, 13 Leinster titles, 11 All Stars, six League titles – has been coming. Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, or why Henry Shefflin has called us to a press conference, because the forecast is now perfectly clear.
At noon today, in the Set Theatre of Langton’s Hotel, one of the greatest players in the history of hurling – if not the greatest – will take a seat and then his last bow: it won’t be a formal retirement as much as a final coronation and standing ovation to the man who will always be known as King Henry.
That Shefflin choose Langton’s Hotel, in the heart of the Marble City, is entirely fitting. It’s also here that so many of his predecessors and contemporaries were quizzed over the years as to why Kilkenny hurlers were a breed apart.
Shefflin was a breed apart from even his own breed – the most successful hurler ever to come out of Kilkenny, the likes of whom only come along once in several generations.
When that came a week ago – Shefflin collecting his third All-Ireland club title on St Patrick’s Day (and so 31st title in all) – the only question then was what was possibly left for him to achieve.
No county moves on more relentlessly and ruthlessly than Kilkenny, and no county manager has instilled that more than Brian Cody. At no stage, including as recently as last Sunday, did Cody make any effort to convince Shefflin to stay on, because the decision had to be his and his alone.
“People ask me the question a lot,” he said, “‘which is your best victory? I would actually say winning my first county final. When you grow up playing in any club, it is not about winning a club All-Ireland, it is winning a county championship.”
Shefflin was then pressed on that, and asked if winning a club All-Ireland could truly be more special than winning one with the county.
“It’s very hard to say. I’m not going to come out and say one is better than the other, because it just isn’t. They are totally different. The next one, that’s the best one to win. But then when that’s finished and you go back to intercounty that’s the best one to win then. And then you go back to club and the county title is the best one to win. I’ve been very fortunate to taste them all.”
Still, even after 16 years, there was no definitive reason why he couldn’t have continued for a 17th. Physically, Shefflin was still up to the task, which means what possibly convinced him to call time was the thought that he may not get to feature at all with Kilkenny in the months ahead, or at least not with the certain ferocity of his past.
He also has his future to think about – including his wife and four young children, aged six, five, three, and 10 months. “I’d like to think that in 30 years’ time I’ll be going to watch some of those playing,” Shefflin said, when asked, a few weeks back, about how he thought about life after Kilkenny hurling.
“I’m very comfortable. That’s the way it goes.”