The Big Debate: Should Cody start Shefflin in showdown with Tipperary?
The Great Debate
Published 05/09/2014 | 02:30
Colm Keys and Martin Breheny debate whether the Kilkenny legend should start against Tipperary in his quest for a 10th Liam McCarthy win.
YES SAYS COLM KEYS - On the Wednesday night that Kilkenny conducted their All-Ireland hurling final interviews and media engagements, Brian Cody gave the following update on Henry Shefflin's fitness.
"For certain, he has 70 minutes in him. He has 73 or 74 minutes in him. He most definitely has. He's as fit. He's in great shape."
So that's it then. Why should there be another word of debate about it if he's ready and if he has the capacity to last that length of time?
If Cody, who you suspect has always elevated Shefflin that tiny bit higher than every other player he has had other his command, is willing to say that about him, then there shouldn't be an issue.
In the same week the injured Michael Rice gave a similar ringing endorsement.
"I think he's fitter than ever, from what I've seen of him. I don't think there are any fears like that about him, he just minds himself incredibly well."
If there are concerns over his match sharpness, having not started since the League final in May - after which he sustained another stress fracture in the foot - then those concerns are surely just as applicable in the first quarter as the last.
Will the last 20 minutes of an All-Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary really offer the greatest player of this or arguably any age a softer landing than the first 20 minutes?
Cody hasn't had a problem putting players with limited game time into All-Ireland finals from the start before.
What game time had Walter Walsh when he was parachuted into the 2012 All-Ireland final replay against Galway?
In 2011 Eddie Brennan played only bit parts in two of Kilkenny's three games in the build-up to the final with Tipperary. But he was still drafted in ahead of TJ Reid.
Two years earlier Richie Hogan hadn't started any of Kilkenny's three Championship matches against Galway, Dublin or Waterford but he started against Tipperary, displacing Reid.
For the same match Derek Lyng replaced James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, having only started the Leinster final.
Further back DJ Carey wasn't even part of the panel when Kilkenny won the 2002 Leinster title but he started the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final with Tipperary.
Admittedly Shefflin is coming off a sequence of injuries that would probably have ended most inter-county careers, but if his fitness isn't an issue, then selection shouldn't be either.
One of Shefflin's greatest strengths is to absorb pressure and meet any challenge thrown at him.
Making a first seasonal Championship start in an All-Ireland final is something he would take in his stride.
If he is fit to last, then he is fit to start.
NO SAYS MARTIN BREHENY
When Henry Shefflin was forced off with a recurrence of a knee injury early in the 2010 All-Ireland final, even Tipperary supporters had mixed feelings.
While they were pleased at one level to see the opposition's top sniper being forced to hand in his gun, they were sorry for Shefflin on a personal basis. An obsessive determination had pushed his spirit to the limit, almost defying medical science as he willed himself to be ready for the final.
Unfortunately, for him and Kilkenny, his knee didn't hold up and, as he left the pitch to a thunderous ovation, the five-in-a-row ambitions went with him. A little over an hour later, Tipperary were celebrating victory and Kilkenny were wondering what might have happened if Shefflin hadn't been forced out.
This year, Shefflin is sound and ready for action but should he start?
The memory of 2010 remains relevant, albeit in a different context. His departure after 13 minutes provided Tipperary with a massive boost, while adding to the worry load of a Kilkenny team already struggling to cope without centre-back Brian Hogan.
Shefflin hasn't started any of Kilkenny's five championship games this season, having had to recover from an injury sustained in May. If he were to start on Sunday, but didn't get into the game, how soon could he be taken off?
The sight of a fit Shefflin being replaced would send Tipperary's confidence soaring. That's why it's unlikely that Brian Cody will risk handing Tipperary such a psychological nugget.
Of course, Shefflin could be the star if he were selected, but since Kilkenny have plotted their way through Leinster and past Limerick without him starting, there's an obvious attraction in continuing with the successful formula.
With six subs allowed, changes can be made as early as required. Ideally, from a Kilkenny perspective, they would spring Shefflin in the second half, providing a huge lift for his colleagues and a problem for Tipperary.
It's not as if Kilkenny are short of forward momentum. Richie Power's return to form when introduced as a sub against Limerick has increased Cody's options. And since Power is younger than Shefflin, it might be wiser to use him from the start.
Obviously, much will depend on how Shefflin - and indeed the rest of the forwards - have been going in training, but if enough of Cody's strike force are playing well, then holding his most experienced ace in reserve makes perfect sense.
After all, most big games are won in the second half, which seems like the right time for Shefflin to exert his influence.