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Henry Sheeflin: It's my decision when I quit Kilkenny, nobody else's

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Henry Shefflin

Henry Shefflin

Henry Shefflin

HENRY SHEFFLIN is his own man. Always has been. And there's only one person who will decide when it's the right time for him to retire from inter-county hurling.

That person isn't you, me or a plethora of speculating pundits. Peer pressure - sparked by five Kilkenny retirements already this winter - won't come into it either. Even Brian Cody won't have the last word ... albeit he will have the last word on whether to give Shefflin more game-time next season should he decide to carry on.

No, the most voracious accumulator of medals in hurling history will make up his own mind, when the time is right. There will be no big announcement over Christmas, for the simple reason that Ballyhale Shamrocks have an All-Ireland club SHC semi-final to prepare for on February 7, when either Portumna or Gort await.

In the wake of his latest successful trophy hunt - the Leinster club final victory over Kilcormac-Killoughey - Shefflin was asked for his view on the suggestion that, the longer Ballyhale stay in the All-Ireland race, the more likely that he'll return for Kilkenny?

PRESSURE

"Not at all," he said, before turning the question on its head. "I think there's a lot of pressure coming on me, that you have to retire. Like, I make my own decision when the time is right," he stressed.

"I'm my own person, I'll make the decision when the time comes. I'll talk to a few key people that I trust and I want to speak to.

"Obviously, look, I'm not going to make a decision until I'm finished with my club. I don't think it's fair to those lads down in the dressing-room, if there's all this hullabaloo going on whether you retire or whatsoever. So I think for me and for the lads, the best thing I can do is keep concentrating.

"As I said, I'm looking forward to the Christmas now, to letting go a little bit, but at the same time training and looking forward to the new year."

To date, five now-former colleagues - all in their 30s but all younger than a man who turns 36 next month - have retired in the aftermath of Kilkenny's latest All-Ireland coronation.

Tommy Walsh, David Herity, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and, just last Friday, JJ Delaney have called time on their careers in Black-and-Amber. Between them they had amassed 38 All-Ireland medals, either as starters or panellists - but only Delaney was a consistent starter right through this year's championship.

REDUCED

Shefflin - who tops the lot with his ten SHC medals - was reduced to the role of impact sub last summer. Asked if he felt any pressure to now stay on, given the departure of so many leadership figures, the Ballyhale man reiterated: "I feel no pressure whatsoever. And I don't feel pressure with some people saying he has to go now because the other lads are gone. I don't feel pressure that he has to stay because the other lads are gone. Absolutely not.

"The lads - JJ, Tommy, Brian, 'Taggy', Davy - made the decision because that was what was best for them.

"I spoke to each of them, and each of them is very comfortable with that decision. And I would hope, when I make my decision as well, that I'll be totally comfortable with that."

Of the famous five to have exited already, Delaney's was the one that blindsided most observers.

Even Shefflin, who had soldiered with the Fenians defender for well over a decade, was initially surprised. "But then when I reflected, I wasn't surprised - because that's JJ. He's just an unbelievable defender, an unbelievable person. JJ does things very much his way, and I think he did it again.

"Of course he caught us by surprise because he'd been an All Star this year, and why wouldn't he think about going back to try and win his tenth medal?

"But I think it's just a testament to the man, that (this ten-medal target) didn't come into it one bit. He just was making his decision, what suited him and his life best, and that's just JJ."

Shefflin then concluded: "I don't know if someone said it on a tweet ... how many players have won an All Star and retired? I don't know is there that many. So I think for him to go out at the top is absolutely brilliant."

Still, Delaney's departure leaves a giant full-back void, according to Shefflin's clubmate, Colin Fennelly. "We heard speculation that it was his last year but he's the best full-back in the country and it's very hard to see him go. You know he's going to go but you don't want him to," Fennelly admitted.

MASSIVE

"He's a massive, massive loss to Kilkenny hurling but he did his hurling and he's gone now and we can't look back. There's enough players in Kilkenny to fill the spot."

Asked if his fellow Ballyhale man, Joey Holden, could be that player, he replied: "Definitely. He's done fierce well for us in what's his first time really playing full-back and I'm sure, when he's back hurling with Kilkenny, he'll probably have a look there. He kind of hurls like JJ Delaney so if he improves that bit more he could be the next big thing with Kilkenny, hopefully."


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