Four operations in just five years for Shefflin
Latest injury blow leaves Kilkenny talisman Shefflin facing another long, hard winter in quest for 10th All-Ireland
A FOURTH operation in five years is the price Henry Shefflin is willing to pay in a bid to land an incredible 10th All-Ireland medal.
Surgery in a couple of weeks, two months on crutches, a rehabilitation programme and then a gradual return to action in the spring is now the plan following confirmation that a recent foot injury incurred on club duty for Ballyhale Shamrocks is a broken bone allied to ligament damage.
The bad news means that Shefflin will also miss the Cats' celebration holiday to New York and Jamaica in the New Year, but he is resigned to his fate.
Clearly, the hurling gods don't give their blessing lightly, even to one sanctified with greatness as a key component in Brian Cody's trophy-devouring Kilkenny machine.
Shefflin's ninth All-Ireland triumph was achieved against the background of a pain-filled six months following a shoulder repair operation just over a year ago.
Remarkably, the 33-year-old honours-laden All Star retains his record of starting every championship match in Brian Cody's 14 seasons as Noreside hurling boss.
His appetite has not yet been sated, as the Ballyhale player last month pointed himself in the direction of one more campaign in search of a 10th MacCarthy Cup medal.
But long before that looms as a realistic prospect, Shefflin once more prepares to enter the House of Pain and Patience that is the rehabilitation process.
His body increasingly registers a protest vote at the unrelenting demands made on muscle, ligaments, bone and sinew that is mandatory for a top-level sportsman in modern times – but Shefflin's mind is not registering the complaints.
If he was a Kilkenny footballer, Shefflin might well have been lounging through winters in carpet slippers years ago, but it's different when the rewards are plentiful and achievable in the small ball game.
That said, the man's hunger, courage, and defiance in the face of misfortune is long-established.
In 2004, he received an eye injury against Clare in the quarter-final replay that required a minor operation but was back in action for the semi-final clash with Waterford a week later.
In 2007, Shefflin suffered his first cruciate ligament injury in the All-Ireland final against Limerick.
He didn't appear for the second half, but his opening 35 minutes yielded 1-2 and the Cats drove on to win their 30th All-Ireland.
Surgery and recuperation dominated the closing months of '07 and early '08, but he was ready for action come the 2008 championship.
And 2010? The dreaded cruciate popped during Kilkenny's All-Ireland semi-final against Cork and it was a sporting miracle that Shefflin was deemed fit enough to start the final against Tipperary a few weeks later.
King Henry lasted just 13 minutes, his departure giving Tipp a major impetus towards their eventual victory.
Of all the serious injuries, he reckons that the shoulder damage of autumn 2011 was the most enduringly uncomfortable and painful – mentally and physically.
Ironically, that tear of cartilage around the ball and socket joint of his left shoulder was sustained on winter club duty for Ballyhale Shamrocks, as was the current foot problem.
On a Monday night in March, Shefflin had a private test on the recovery process watched by Cody, trainer Mick Dempsey and physio Kevin Curran.
He told colleague Damian Lawlor in a recent interview how that went: "There was no one around. We just wanted to see how I was going after the shoulder op.
"I was hoping to do a bit of fitness work and some pucking around, but I couldn't even hit the ball with the pain.
"That shoulder injury was far worse than the cruciates, more mentally draining and it dragged on.
"The knees were slow to get right, but I was able to do some rehab work along the way. Last winter all I could do was take a few tablets and rest. Nothing else. We had to stop the session after a while. I could see Brian's face – he was trying to be positive, but I could see he was worried. I went home in a heap that night. It was devastating."
Days before the June 23 Leinster semi-final clash with Dublin – Kilkenny's opening joust of Championship 2012 – Shefflin still couldn't puck a ball off a hurling wall due to the pain, but he turned up and togged out against the Dubs.
Once over that hurdle, he still wasn't happy and needed another MRI scan a fortnight before Kilkenny's provincial final against Galway.
The Cats lost, but Shefflin's 1-1 gave him something with which to restore himself mentally, and anyway, Galway's 10-point win brought his own and the squad's focus on redemption.
Shefflin's latest injury will require careful rehabilitation to ensure that it doesn't become a recurring problem, but the lion-hearted King Henry won't let it deflect him from his goal for the coming season.