Off The Ball: Henry Shefflin - like all the greats - not immune to self-doubt
We had Henry Shefflin in studio this week chatting about his new book. The great man is every bit as personable and friendly as you might hope. The book is good too.
Shefflin gives plenty of himself, even if we don't quite get a full breakdown of those mythical Kilkenny tactics. One does come away appreciating just how stinging a Brian Cody talk-down can be. In 2006, when the team wasn't going brilliantly, they headed off for a weekend. Cody gathered the troops, telling them to forget about their All-Stars and Hurler of the Year awards. King Henry - a nickname he really didn't like - sat listening, quickly doing the maths. Only two players in the room had Hurler of the Year awards, him and JJ Delaney. He went away 'bulling'.
This was basic psychology. Shefflin admits it was rather obvious his manager was singling him out for a reaction. And yet, it worked. Shefflin re-doubled his efforts, desperate to prove himself again. He was forever susceptible to the critiques. The story ties into a theme in the book. Shefflin, the unflappable embodiment of calm who we've watched down the years, was as weighed down by self-doubt as anybody. He felt pressure.
Playing brilliantly only served to heap on greater expectations for the next game. The book hammers the notion that Kilkenny cruised effortlessly to their medals; winning 10 All-Irelands was all toil.
Take the Thursday night before the 2009 All-Ireland final against Tipperary. Shefflin wasn't doing what you might suspect. He was upstairs on the bed, almost in tears, telling his wife Deirdre that his 'legs were like jelly'. Nerves and self-imposed expectations had sapped him of the usual bounce in his step.
It is a striking image, one totally at odds with the nerveless wonder who banged home a crucial penalty three days later. 2009 proved a bit of a watershed for him and he worked on a more balanced approach thereafter. It makes for enjoyable reading and reiterates the reality that the highest achievers never find it easy. It's another reason to celebrate them.