Sport Hurling

Sunday 11 December 2016

Was it right to risk talisman in final?

Published 07/09/2010 | 05:00

Right or wrong? Yes or No? Big effect or little effect? As much as Tipperary's thrilling capture of the Liam MacCarthy has prompted conversations since Sunday, so too has the debate about Henry Shefflin's state of readiness for the game.

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He lasted just 13 minutes before pulling up sharply and limping out of the All-Ireland final with a cruciate ligament injury.

By yesterday morning he was already on his way home to Kilkenny in some apparent pain and facing the certainty of another operation and another long spell on the sidelines.

Here we take a look at the pros and cons of the gamble that didn't pay off.

Pros

Brian Cody and his selectors were in an unenviable situation for the last four weeks. Once the decision was made to postpone surgery on Shefflin's knee and take an instant rehabilitative route, he was giving himself a chance to play.

When the prognosis improved following intense treatment in Limerick and he came through the crucible that is Kilkenny training in Nowlan Park, twice, Cody had no option but to play him. Henry had come through the only test that mattered.

The risk of breakdown never diminished, however, and on the Monday before his return to training, Cody admitted there was still an element of the miraculous in what he was attempting.

There was a precedent. Ronan O'Gara had recovered to play a role with the 2005 Lions, Dermot Earley struggled through the season on much the same injury and Kieran McGeeney reached the highest point of his career without a properly functioning cruciate ligament.

Put yourself in the manager's position: you have arguably the greatest hurler of this or any generation at your disposal and your team is chasing an elusive five-in-a-row. That target may genuinely be no more important to Cody than one-in-a-row, but he's still aware of its significance to so many.

In that case, having met the criteria at training, where the public have full access, Henry had to start. Training, after all, is what Kilkenny teams under Cody live and die by.

Not to have selected him would have left too much of a 'what might have been' scenario. If they hadn't played him and they lost? If they kept him on the bench and introduced him when it was too late? Those were greater risks.

Henry himself would have been prepared for a recurrence, as would the other players. They actually started to hurl a little more freely when he did depart, but knew and appreciated that he had to be given the chance. He has given too much for too long.

It would have been worse if he had come on as a substitute and gone off again. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that he would last the full game. John Tennyson did, after all. So, it was right to risk him.

Cons

When 8,000 people converge on a ground for one training session, you know there is something different about the build-up to this All-Ireland final.

More than the five-in-a-row, the battle of Henry Shefflin's wounded knee took on a life of its own in Kilkenny and far beyond.

How disconcerting was that for the rest of the squad? How did it impact on their focus? Had Kilkenny dealt with the original diagnosis that he would play no part in the final, they may have been able to deal with it much quicker than expected.

As it was, the Shefflin (and Tennyson) question hung over the squad for a full two and a half weeks until the team was finally announced last Friday night.

There is no tangible evidence that Tipperary were lifted by his departure after 13 minutes, but without him in the second half, not enough Kilkenny forwards were able to lift their game sufficiently. Maybe if they had been tuned in to his potential absence for longer, that might have been averted.

The other factor was the rain and the greasy surface, hardly conducive to someone with a cruciate tear -- mentally or physically.

Others have recovered and played on without surgery, but they enjoyed a much greater time frame in which to rehabilitate. Four weeks left Shefflin more vulnerable. In Earley's case it didn't really work out for him when he missed the last two games. And could anyone honestly say that Tennyson was at the peak of his powers on Sunday?

The other disadvantage is that Henry has suffered a setback in his recovery for next year and may have sustained additional damage on Sunday.

The diagnosis has not been made yet, but he can expect a long spell on the sidelines that will eat long into next season. Ballyhale more than Kilkenny will feel that.

Irish Independent

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