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Shefflin setback delays return of King

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Kilkenny hurling All-Star Henry Shefflin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny hurling All-Star Henry Shefflin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny hurling All-Star Henry Shefflin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

EVEN the immortals are occasionally betrayed by feet of clay. Or, in Henry Shefflin's case, another foot injury complication that will – barring a medical miracle – finally scupper his incredible run of never missing a championship game since his SHC debut 14 years ago.

The most decorated hurler of all time was in Dublin yesterday to meet the press, as part of a Lucozade Sport promotion, but this wasn't your typical run-of-the-mill PR gig.

The sight of a protective boot on Shefflin's stricken left foot was an obvious tell-tale sign, even before he confirmed that he has suffered a fresh injury – a stress fracture on top of one of his metatarsals.

This is a byproduct of the original Lisfranc injury, affecting the mid-foot, that has sidelined the Kilkenny legend since last December.

The problem was only diagnosed by an MRI scan on Tuesday evening and the 34-year-old will have his foot in that all-too-familiar boot for another two weeks at least.

All of which means the clock is ticking. Kilkenny open their Leinster SHC campaign against Offaly in Tullamore, on June 9. That's just three-and-a-half weeks away.

Shefflin begins his interview by admitting his chances of featuring against Offaly are "not very likely" but as the conversation continues, it becomes clear there is virtually no chance of that happening.

Shefflin, of course, has defied sports injury convention in the past – starting the 2010 All-Ireland final against Tipperary just four weeks after tearing his cruciate against Cork – but even that gamble backfired inside the opening quarter.

This year, the Ballyhale Shamrocks man has no training in the bank and he made it clear that he won't be rushing his latest comeback, just because of that SHC appearance sequence (62 not out) or the perfect symmetry of his senior career with that of manager Brian Cody, who has started Shefflin in every single one of his championship matches dating back to Laois in June, 1999.

Cody himself is on the comeback trail after his recent pre-planned cardiac surgery. This latest Shefflin setback suggests the manager will be back on the line before his talisman is back on the pitch.

"You came on a good day, to be honest," he told reporters, "because basically I was back doing a bit of training for the last couple of weeks since I got the pins out. Over the weekend, it reacted a small bit. I was in to see the surgeon (on Tuesday) and that's why I'm back in the boot.

"With the injury I had, my foot wasn't on the ground for three or four months so ... your foot isn't used to training and it just reacts."

The MRI revealed the "early stages of a stress fracture which is good, there's no crack or anything". He is due back with the surgeon in two or three weeks' time, at which point he'll see "what the prognosis is".

If Offaly is a no-go, what about playing in a prospective Leinster semi-final against Dublin or Wexford on June 23?

"I don't honestly know myself, so I can't say. It's going to be very much a 'wait and see' and once I get back I have to be careful again and just build it up right. It's positive that it's not the original injury, which is a serious injury, and that looks good."

That original injury dates back to Ballyhale's Leinster club semi-final defeat to Oulart-The Ballagh on December 1. Originally it was reported (inaccurately) as an ankle injury: a Lisfranc injury or fracture affects the mid-foot area and basically involves one, or all, of the metatarsal bones being displaced from the tarsus.

 

Battled

For a player who has battled back from two torn cruciates and major shoulder surgery during the second half of his stellar career, the initial presumption was that he'd make it to the starting grid in O'Connor Park because, well, that is what King Henry does.

But this has been no straight-forward comeback. Earlier in the year, there was even a bout of pneumonia to contend with: "You'll be putting me down in a second!" he quipped.

"The body was a bit weak and I picked up a cold and it turned into pneumonia. So I was in hospital then for a few days ... ... I think my body was just telling me it wanted a bit of a break. It's felt good since."

Asked if this was his most frustrating injury, he replied: "Last year when you sat down with me, I'd have said that one was ... this is the freshest. This one has been slow, there's no doubt about it. It's definitely a frustrating injury."

The championship's all-time record scorer insisted, however, that "it's not like I'm totally downcast". But what about losing that appearance record? "Ah no, I'm not going to lie and say I wouldn't love to play in it, of course I would," he conceded.

"But I would have said it this time last year – there's no point in playing unless you're right. And I'm not right so there's no point, that's basically it.

"That'll be it, it will be over and you move on with the next match."

3Henry Shefflin was speaking at the launch of the Lucozade Sport Club Crusade, which sees Lucozade Sport offering adult sport clubs free training equipment and kit in exchange for Lucozade Sport bottle caps. See www.lucozadesport.ie


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