Shefflin so close to unique pinnacle
KILKENNY MANAGER Brian Cody has always regarded with suspicion the personal milestones that measure out the career of Henry Shefflin. When the great Ballyhale forward had broken the all-time championship scoring record in the Leinster semi-final against Dublin two years ago, his manager wasn’t going to linger on the achievement.
“To be honest, I’m more concerned about what he’s going to do for the rest of this year,” he said. “That’s the only concern I have with Henry. Henry doesn’t need me to talk about him.”
Cody has always emphasised the collective throughout his various teams’ dominance of the championship during the 14 years of his management so his attitude to personal achievements is predictable.
At yesterday’s conferring of an honorary doctorate in University College Cork, the Kilkenny manager declined to comment on the achievement within Shefflin’s grasp tomorrow – the setting of a new record for All-Ireland medals won on the field of play.
Should Kilkenny defeat Galway Shefflin will have earned his ninth Celtic cross but the imminence of this potentially historic achievement has been largely downplayed successfully by the county.
“There’s not any kind of public discussion on the matter,” said former GAA president Nickey Brennan, who also served as Kilkenny manager in the 1990s.
“That’s not to say that it’s not regarded as important. The achievement would be greatly welcomed as recognition of someone who’s seen as Kilkenny’s greatest hurler but I think these type of distinctions become more celebrated when people are looking back at great careers.
“At the time people are more concerned about actually winning the All-Ireland and people are nervous enough about that here.”
It’s a plausible explanation but the lack of publicity attending the possibility of the historic ninth medal is also at odds with history.
Cork’s Christy Ring set the record back in 1954 when winning his eighth medal against Wexford. A record crowd attended and according to Tim Horgan’s biography of Ring, Hurling’s Greatest, an Irish Independent reporter wrote of the excitement in the run-up to the final.
“In the city these days one hears more about Ring’s eighth medal than Cork’s All-Ireland and his comrades are extremely anxious that Christy, who has served his county so wonderfully over the years, will make history. He looks a picture of fitness at the moment and is the centre of attraction each evening as he prepares for the big event.”
Two years later Ring became the first man to go into an All-Ireland final looking for a ninth medal but as he had already set the record, there wasn’t the same publicity. Cork lost to Wexford in an epic, which turned out to be Ring’s last chance.
Prior to this weekend, the most recent person to go into an All-Ireland final with the possibility of breaking Ring’s record was Tipperary legend John Doyle. His announcement prior to the 1967 final against Kilkenny that he would be retiring after the match intensified the focus.
But it is impossible to imagine Shefflin’s personal quest attracting the same sort of coverage evident in Paddy Downey’s preview for this newspaper 45 years ago.
“Primarily it affects Tipperary’s approach because if John Doyle succeeds in his quest the record will also belong to the county and they will have passed Cork, their arch rivals in the south for whom Ring accomplished the distinction of individual leadership in 1954.
“This, as I discovered during a visit to Tipperary last week, has fired the team with a degree of determination that I have not known them to possess since at any time since the nucleus of the present combination was formed in 1958.”
Michael Keating was a team-mate of Doyle and he attributes the emphasis to the veteran corner back’s charisma.
“Doyle was such a character in the game that he attracted attention. That’s not Henry Shefflin’s style. Possibly there are so many other big names on the Kilkenny team that he’s not the sole focus of the team the way Christy Ring was in the 1950s.”
Does he think nonetheless it is a motivation for Kilkenny? “Definitely. Kilkenny are about records. They’ll want one of their own to hold any record rather than see Cork or Tipp with it.”