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King Henry's injury battle

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30 September 2012; Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

30 September 2012; Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

30 September 2012; Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

ANOTHER national final with Cats on the prowl for silverware? Nothing strange there. Another Kilkenny final but no Henry Shefflin? Unusual, but it has happened before – albeit in May, never September. Another final and no Brian Cody? Now we're talking downright weird.

The pairing of Kilkenny and Tipperary in Sunday's Allianz Hurling League final may seem entirely logical given their consistent overshadowing of the chasing pack in recent years (until last summer, in Tipp's traumatic case).

However, it still won't feel quite right for many Black-and-Amber diehards to see their heroes accorded a rare opportunity to play a title decider in their home patch of Nowlan Park but without their twin leaders at the vanguard.

Cody, the sideline supremo, is still recuperating from his recent, pre-planned cardiac surgery. Shefflin, the most decorated hurler of all time, is doing likewise following winter surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.

The hope in Kilkenny is that both men will be fit to resume battle when their Leinster SHC campaign opens with a quarter-final against Offaly on June 9.

The legendary Eddie Keher has no inside knowledge on the comeback schedules of his fellow Kilkenny icons, but he sounded a cautiously optimistic note on Shefflin's chances of being togged out in Tullamore next month.

"If he doesn't, it won't be Henry's fault," Keher pointed out, speaking at this week's Croke Park launch of the 14th annual All-Ireland GAA Golf Challenge.

 

Setbacks

"He's working very hard on the injury. I know he had a few setbacks with it but from talking to him recently – even though he didn't say it – I think he's gearing himself to try and be back for the championship. So if anyone will get back, Henry will get back."

Given his lack of game-time, could a super-sub role be the ideal comeback solution? "It could be, but it's hard to visualise," Keher replies. "I think he'd be better off starting a game rather than coming in as an impact sub, whenever that will be.

"We're hoping it will be the first round of the championship – but even if it's the second round, I'd say he should start."

The Offaly opener has added significance, though, because Shefflin has never missed a championship match since Cody became manager.

That 62-match sequence – dating back to June 1999 – has incredibly survived two severed cruciates and a shoulder operation. Now it's under threat from the ankle/foot injury shipped for Ballyhale Shamrocks against Oulart-The Ballagh last December.

Keher, though, doesn't believe Shefflin will be driven purely by thoughts of preserving that unbroken run. "I don't think that motivates him. Despite what it seems with that Kilkenny team, I don't think it's records (that matter)," he counters.

Keher himself is no stranger to record-breaking – he was the all-time championship top scorer until Shefflin overtook him in 2010 – but he's adamant that Cody's current crew are only interested in playing... and winning if they can.

 

Cope

To facilitate the latter, he would favour a return to the full-forward line once Shefflin is fit to resume.

"I thought he might play that role last year but he was extraordinarily fit for someone who had suffered injury and he was well able to cope with the half-forward line... he pulled us through all the difficult matches last year," Keher recalls. "But I'd like to see him in the full-forward line this year – and he could play a roving game from there. The injury is a foot injury which should hamper him more than his shoulder last year."

While Kilkenny are no strangers to coping without Shefflin for entire league campaigns (they actually won it last year), getting by without Cody is another matter.

Their recent semi-final against Galway was the first such big-match occasion: the All-Ireland holders survived with a degree of comfort in his absence.

As for their Nowlan Park collision with Tipp, Keher declares: "I'm sure he'll be there in spirit and I presume he'll have a part to play at some stage. I don't know what's really happening but I can't imagine him keeping totally away from it.

"He'll be missed on the sideline – he has done a fantastic job with that team over the years."

And beyond Sunday? "Knowing Brian he'll be back. He just loves the game."

During his own playing days, Keher was no stranger to team trainers going absent for a period.

"Fr Tommy Maher actually used to retire after an All-Ireland every year," he recalls. "And then Paddy Grace (the long-serving Kilkenny secretary) would go up to him, coming to the start of the next year, and get him to continue on. That was the trend.

"The league that time used to be played with three matches before Christmas and he (Fr Maher) wouldn't be there for those.

"Maybe if you got to a league final, he might come back. That was the way he worked and I suppose it kept him fresh – but you wouldn't get away with that in the current climate."


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