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Henry: Time is running out

IF last season was a funny one (and not in the 'chuckle chuckle' sense) for Henry Shefflin, this one is positively perplexing.

When Kilkenny emerged from their hibernation in Ennis - a lengthier slumber than that to which they accustomed - in the middle of the lesser spotted Cats was Henry Shefflin, an oddity in itself given his recent inability/disinclination to make an appearance so soon into the new calendar year.

Come the League final, after an encouraging smattering of games and performances, the same stress fracture of the foot that hampered his 2013 involvement flared up once more, casting a shadow over his ambitions to win a 10th All-Ireland medal.

Roll on Galway in Tullamore and after effectively winning the game but then contriving to blow it, Henry, with a wondrous, instinctive strike from a prohibitive angle off his less natural side, looked to have clinched a belter of a match with his first competitive touch back from injury.

"Oh I did, to be honest," he admits of the belief that he held for all of about 10 seconds that he had won it.

"Of course I did, because I just felt that the match was up.

"To be fair to (Galway goalkeeper) Colm Callanan, I think the ball wasn't long 
gone over the bar and he was pucking it out again.

"I think the elation didn't last very long because Joe (Canning, pictured, above right) had the ball... "

Cue heroic intervention number two.

What was Shefflin thinking then, 
when the man-who-would-king replied in kind?

"I wouldn't say the words I thought. But to be fair it was an unbelievable score. A brilliant score.

"You go from such a high to such a downer but at least we were still there, which was the most important thing."

Replay.

Job done.

Shefflin still on the fringes.

Yet you couldn't but argue, in that little flourish of scoring after his introduction, that he made Brian Cody think very long and very hard about the sense of leaving a man, even one of his advanced years, in reserve for this Sunday's All-Ireland 
semi-final with Limerick.

"Obviously my opportunities to win honours are diminishing every month," he says, "so it was great to be part of it and great to participate, to come on and get a few scores.

"Of course, look, every player wants to start. I read Paudie O'Sullivan in the lead up to the Munster final saying of course he wanted to be playing. And I'm the same.

"It is a bit different but I think mentally, no; do you prepare differently for matches? No.

"You get yourself right because you just don't know what's going to happen on a day."

Showpiece

Shefflin went to last September's All-Ireland final replay as a spectator, the first time for eight years he played no part in the showpiece.

At that stage, he wasn't even sure he'd be back for another tilt at Liam MacCarthy, such was the uncertainty with which Kilkenny finished their 2013 season.

"Yeah but we didn't know that until the year was over, unfortunately, because if you would have spoke to us we would have been saying, 'no, everything is good, everything is great'," Shefflin admits. "So you live in the moment, I think.

"Definitely now in hindsight you would say that things are a lot more positive but in saying that, the injuries are coming right and the lads are all training so there are more positive individuals around the camp and people aren't up on the treatment table, they're out on the field."

Monopoly

It was the season of the great levelling-off, the end to Kilkenny's near monopoly and a new direction for hurling.

Now? You wouldn't be sure.

Certainly, the Cats have made slight alterations to their preferred mode of transport. But the values remain.

"I think it's very much the 
dynamic of the team as well and obviously tactics have come into it more and there's extra sweepers back," Shefflin notes.

"If you're banging high balls down and the ball is breaking, there's a better chance of the defence getting it.

"So all these kind of things do come into it at the end of the day and I suppose when you have players of that quality that can pinpoint a player, stick in his hand, why not do it?

"The quality of the use of the ball is a bit different now, they are trying to use it more.

"But I think we would have always tried to do that.

"We didn't execute it very well last year because I'd say we didn't have the ball a lot of the time, but I think it's very much how the game ... Richie and TJ and these guys are getting serious possession, they're 
very good hurlers, obviously Brian is drilling it into the lads to use the ball intelligently.

"It's not anything scientific but that's what we should always be doing. And there are times we should be direct," he adds.

"It's just to do it at the right time."


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