Tipp the template as fit-again Shefflin rallies Kilkenny
IF TIPP can do it, so can we! That was the message from Henry Shefflin yesterday in response to all the flak that Kilkenny's hurlers have copped since their Allianz League final flop to Dublin.
That disastrous performance, on top of last year's All-Ireland final loss, has prompted many to dismiss the previously imperious Cats as a side on the wane.
But the Ballyhale giant said "it was just one bad day" and stressed that his team are looking to replicate the way Tipperary bounced back from their Munster championship trimming by Cork last year.
"All you have to do is look at Tipperary last year, there's the answer," he said. "Our lads would have been disappointed with the (league final) performance but we're lucky enough that the championship is coming and we can turn that around.
"Obviously, we'd love to be league champions and are down a few levels from where we'd like to be, but every team starts off the championship on a level footing.
"The great thing about the championship, and Tipp really showed it last year, is that you can get better and better as the year goes on, and that'll be a great goal for us this year.
"It was one bad day. Kilkenny didn't play well, but that was more down to Dublin than anything, they were flying and didn't let us play well."
The good news for all Cats fans is that their totemic playmaker is definitely well on the road to recovery. He reported no adverse reaction to playing 25 minutes of competitive hurling last weekend, his first since aggravating his cruciate injury in last year's All-Ireland final.
And after coming off and scoring 0-2 (1f) for Ballyhale, he said he was delighted with how his body, and the fans, reacted.
"To get through the match first of all, and wake up the next morning and feel okay, was great. There was a bit of a clap when I went onto the field, which was great too, it gives you a bit of a boost," he said. Describing himself as training at "75 to 80pc", Shefflin's earlier-than-expected club return has immediately raised hopes that he will be ready for Kilkenny's Leinster semi-final on June 11, but he insisted that he will err on the side of caution.
"The club is playing again (against Johnstown) in two weeks' time. I'd hope to play a part in that, but I can't say I definitely will," he said. "I'm taking it one training session to the next. You just don't know with these things.
"We had a young chap down in the club, only 19 or 20, he did the same injury as myself and was back hurling in only three or four weeks, but hurt it again and needed surgery.
"That's why I've said to myself this time that I'm not going to rush it. It's very much about gauging yourself to see how it goes. The Leinster semi-final is four weeks away and a lot can happen before then.
"It's about game-time as well. You can train and run as much as you want but, at the end of the day, it's about getting the knocks and the intensity of matches.
"The last time it happened it probably took me to the middle of the summer (2008) really," he said of re-finding his touch.
"I struggled in a couple of matches in Leinster. It was later on in the summer that I felt good and it was probably the following year that I felt really good. It definitely takes time to get back up to (hurling) speed."
Shefflin said he had no regrets about gambling on the knee in last year's final and had never contemplated retirement when his injury recurred. And he paid tribute to one Kilkenny team-mate who has just done so, saying Martin Comerford will be "a major loss".
"He was a major player for us, and a major character in the dressing-room as well," he said.
"He came on the panel in 2001 and I remember the goal I got in the 2002 final, he'd blocked Brian Lohan over in the corner. Martin brought that level to it, he gave it his heart and soul and dug us out of a lot of holes."