Tuesday 25 April 2017

Shefflin still has a role to play for Cody

'There's a great sense of shock in the county,' says Cats boss

Brian Cody embraces his talisman Henry Shefflin after the 2003 All-Ireland final.
Brian Cody embraces his talisman Henry Shefflin after the 2003 All-Ireland final.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

AS Kilkenny hurling absorbs the reality that Henry Shefflin will miss the All-Ireland five-in-a-row attempt on September 5, manager Brian Cody is already planning ahead to ensure that the squad is in the best condition possible for the huge challenge.

He also revealed that Shefflin will play a significant role in the build-up to the final, but the details have yet to be worked out.

"A lot depends on his treatment schedule. That's up to the medical people and Henry between them so we'll see how it goes but, whatever happens, he will be embedded in what we do," said Cody.

The squad will come together next Monday -- for the first time since the All-Ireland semi-final win -- against a background of sadness over the knee injury that will rule Shefflin out of what could be the greatest day in Kilkenny hurling history.

"There's a great sense of shock in the county. People are just fierce sad for Henry that he can't play in the final," said the Cats boss. "They're thinking that way as much as how it's going to impact on the team.

"It's terrible bad luck but that's sport. We won't have Henry or John Tennyson so we just have to drive on without them. That's where the importance of having a strong panel comes in. The best we can do for the two lads is to make sure that even without them we give ourselves the best possible chance of winning."

Apart from missing the historic All-Ireland final, Shefflin won't be fit for Ballyhale Shamrocks' attempt to win the Kilkenny title for the fifth successive year. Ballyhale are also the reigning All-Ireland club champions, so even if they retain the Kilkenny title, Shefflin's absence will hit their longer-term ambitions in Leinster and possibly beyond.

"It's very tough on any player to miss an All-Ireland final and, in Henry's case, he'll miss the big club action too with Ballyhale," said Cody.

The manager revealed that he feared the worst once he saw Shefflin go down in the first half of Sunday's clash with Cork.

"It's hard to put Henry down. He felt something pop which wasn't good news, but we were hoping that it wouldn't turn out this bad," he said.

It's the second time in four years that serious knee injuries have interfered with Kilkenny's All-Ireland final plans. JJ Delaney and Donnacha Cody were ruled out of the 2006 final but Kilkenny still managed to beat Cork, thus ending the Rebels' three-in-a-row attempt.

Kilkenny are much better equipped to cope with losing players than other counties but the absence of Shefflin -- who has been their spiritual leader for several years -- presents them with a new type of challenge.

Richie Power will take over the free-taking duties and can be relied on to deliver a high strike-rate, while Cody is also in the lucky position of being able to call on Michael Rice -- who was having an excellent season at midfield prior to injuring his hand -- or Martin Comerford as a direct replacement for Shefflin. Richie Hogan will also be in contention.

However, Shefflin's influence has extended far beyond his role as a free-taker and an outstanding forward. He has been, in effect, Kilkenny's pack leader, the man who sorts things out on the pitch. And when it comes to the pressure moments, nobody is more reliable, as he proved in last year's All-Ireland final. He scored a crucial penalty against Tipperary, providing Kilkenny with the break that probably won the game.

Shefflin's average from open play in All-Ireland finals hasn't been especially high, averaging just under three points per game in nine outings. It ranged from a low of one point in the 1999 and 2009 finals to a high of 1-3 against Clare in 2002.

However, his value to the team has always extended far beyond his scoring returns. He can play in any of the six forward positions, interchange easily between the full-forward and half-forward lines and invariably attracts so much attention that others benefit from the space he creates.

His ball-winning capacity, allied to his vision, makes him the most difficult opponent in hurling and while Kilkenny are extremely well-endowed on the replacements' bench, there's no doubt that he will be a huge loss.

Hoping

Kilkenny supporters will be hoping that the rest of the squad come through the weekend club games, followed by the subsequent training, and that there's no repetition of the injury toll which wrecked the county's All-Ireland prospects in 1973.

They went into that final against Limerick without Eddie Keher (who was very much the equivalent of Shefflin), Jim Treacy, Kieran Purcell and Eamonn Morrissey, who had emigrated to Australia a few weeks earlier -- and lost by seven points.

They hammered Limerick a year later and added another All-Ireland in 1975. Having also won in 1972, there are many who believe that if the injury blitz hadn't struck for the 1973 final -- the game where Brian Cody made his championship debut as a 19-year-old -- Kilkenny would have clinched the four-in-a-row in 1975, some 34 years earlier than they actually did.

Despite the absence of Shefflin and Tennyson from the squad, Kilkenny remain the hottest of fancies to take the title. They are 1/6 favourites, with Tipperary at 4/1 to win their first All-Ireland since 2001 and Waterford on 16/1 to end their 51-year wait without a title.

Irish Independent

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