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Shefflin's return still 'weeks away'

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Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin, with twins Alanna, left, and Faye McEntaggart, age 7, from Dunshaughlin, Co Meath at Croke Park to mark Centra's fourth year, as official sponsor of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin, with twins Alanna, left, and Faye McEntaggart, age 7, from Dunshaughlin, Co Meath at Croke Park to mark Centra's fourth year, as official sponsor of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin, with twins Alanna, left, and Faye McEntaggart, age 7, from Dunshaughlin, Co Meath at Croke Park to mark Centra's fourth year, as official sponsor of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

SUCH is Henry Shefflin's iconic status that, even when logic ordains that his unbroken championship appearance record is doomed to end this weekend, not everyone is fully convinced.

The Kilkenny legend has just outlined his latest injury update in Croke Park yesterday. He has told the media it will be another three weeks, at least, before he can resume training ... and even then, he won't have played a single minute of competitive hurling since the first day of December.

And yet, isn't this the same player who defied medical convention (if only for 12 minutes) by starting an All-Ireland final with a torn cruciate? So why would a 'mere' metatarsal stress fracture prevent him from making it 63 not out against Offaly on Sunday?

Which may explain why one of his interviewers suddenly interjected to clarify if he was definitely out of the Leinster SHC quarter-final in Tullamore.

Speed

"Do ye think I'm trying to cod ye or something?" Shefflin countered. "If you saw me yesterday I was wearing a big boot, like ye saw on me before. As I said, it will be another couple of weeks before I go back into see him (the specialist), so I'm a good few weeks away because obviously I've to start training and trying to get back up to speed. The next question you're going to ask me is when will I be back? I don't honestly know. It's definitely four/five/six weeks away at this stage."

If you do the maths, and presuming the unthinkable doesn't materialise in O'Connor Park, Shefflin will remain sidelined for a Leinster semi-final date with either Dublin or Wexford on June 23. And even then, presuming Kilkenny advance to a ninth consecutive provincial decider, July 7 may well come a tad too soon for the current Hurler of the Year.

Still, he's not getting presumptuous either about his comeback date or the likelihood of Kilkenny marching on through the front door. After all, this latest injury mishap – the fourth serious one of his career – has proven more complicated than all the rest. And as last summer underlined, Kilkenny don't always take the shortest possible route to September.

As he had revealed at a previous PR gig exactly three weeks earlier, the 2013 championship will start with Shefflin absent for the first time since his SHC debut (against Laois in 1999) and also for the first time since Brian Cody became Kilkenny manager.

Yesterday, speaking at a HQ launch to mark Centra's fourth year as one of the three All-Ireland SHC sponsors, Shefflin offered more clarity on his current wellbeing. He has been sidelined since last December, when he suffered a Lisfranc injury (midfoot fracture) and whereas this now "seems fine", his comeback hit a complication last month when he suffered a second injury in the same foot, the aforementioned stress fracture.

On Tuesday he met his surgeon, arising from which he was able to shed his (all-too-familiar) protective boot and return to normal footwear.

"He's happy enough with the progress," Shefflin outlined. "Basically I'm back in my shoe now for another couple of weeks and I'm back in to see him then again ... he told me it would be six weeks with a stress fracture, and that's what it'll be, before I do any training."

Shefflin agreed that, realistically, he was hoping to be back challenging for a place if/when Kilkenny qualify for the All-Ireland series (be it a quarter-final in late July or semi-final in the first half of August). "More than likely, yeah," he confirmed. "I just have to be careful with this because if I hurt this stress fracture again, I'll be back to where I was previously and then the year is kinda gone for me."

This weekend, as per usual, the nine-time All-Ireland winner will take his place on the Kilkenny bus heading for Tullamore. But he won't be taking his place on the team. How weird will that be?

"Not so much now, but I think come Friday, Saturday, Sunday when the team is named, the team meeting, going to the match on Sunday, obviously it will feel a bit strange," he admitted. "Of course I'm going to be itching to get out there. And especially the weather that's in it – it's real championship weather."

Emphatic

Even though formguide logic and recent history suggest only one emphatic outcome this weekend, Shefflin refuses to see it that way. Maybe it's because, when he started out as a score-hungry Kilkenny colt back in '99, Offaly weren't just a provincial nuisance but reigning All-Ireland champions.

Reflecting on how Kilkenny are fixed on the cusp of their latest assault on three-in-a-row, he insisted: "I think it's going to be a very tough championship for them. The Leinster championship alone, if you look at the way things are going to go if it pans out – three seriously tough matches. And this first match on Sunday is going to be as tough as any of them."

The location, he concluded, goes some way to levelling the playing pitch. "We are going up to Offaly's back yard," he reminded.

"It makes an awful difference to a team that might be seen as underdogs, to have it in your own yard, the atmosphere that creates and the buzz it will give (the home team) will be massive."


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