Can the ‘King’ lure Joe Canning back to fold as he looks to make mark in first inter-county foray?
He often left us in shock and awe with his skills as a player, but Henry Shefflin continues to do likewise off the pitch, with his sensational appointment as Galway senior hurling boss coming like a bolt from the blue.
While Davy Fitzgerald hopping across the border from Clare to take the reins may have been seen as divisive in certain quarters, the arrival of 10-time All-Ireland SHC winner Shefflin to the west has been welcomed with widespread approval.
Galway chiefs were in a precarious position after a disastrous summer saw the end of the line for Shane O’Neill’s reign and, with no second coming for 2017 All-Ireland-winning boss Micheál Donoghue, Shefflin has lifted the Tribe out of a sizeable hole.
Shefflin has done for Galway what Glenn Ryan and his All-Star backroom team did for the Kildare footballers, rescuing them from a perilous situation with optimism now sky-high as the wizard bids to work his magic in maroon and white.
That sight is not a familiar one with Fitzgerald the collateral damage as his inter-county involvement is put on hold for 2022, for now at least, after 35 consecutive years as a player or manager.
Few could have predicted the prospect of ‘The King’ going up against his former master Brian Cody when the pair clash in the round-robin stages of next year’s Leinster SHC and potentially further afield.
Eddie Brennan made history in last year’s league when he became the first disciple of Cody to duke it out with him on the sideline, but few embody everything that the mighty Kilkenny team of the noughties stood for more than Shefflin.
To see them clashing will be box office and while the three-time Hurler of the Year claimed earlier this year that he had no interest in coming up “against my own”, he will clash with Cody in one of the most anticipated sideline battles in living memory.
“I just would not do it against my own,” Shefflin told ‘Off The Ball’ earlier this year.
“I just would not manage against Ballyhale. There is a lot of harm in it, coaching opposite Ballyhale. My nephews play for Ballyhale. My family are from Ballyhale.”
Timing may have been everything as having brought his native Ballyhale Shamrocks to successive All-Ireland club titles (2019-2020) the next natural step, when his appetite returned, was inter-county management, and Galway clearly fit the bill without a vacancy in his native Kilkenny.
Shefflin’s lack of inter-county managerial pedigree must be questioned, though, as the current Thomastown intermediate boss has only managed two sides since the curtain came down on one of the greatest hurling careers of them all.
When that void does eventually arise following Cody’s departure, Shefflin will no doubt be front and centre to lead the Cats into the future, and flexing his claws elsewhere can only hone his craft further before potentially succeeding the great one and returning home.
When Cody surveys the inter-county scene, he will see his graduates everywhere with successors aplenty when the time comes for the 11-time All-Ireland SHC-winning manager to step aside, as Shefflin joins Offaly boss Michael Fennelly and Kildare equivalent David Herity on the treadmill.
Results will be the only currency that matter for high achievers like Galway, though, and Leinster silverware will be a minimum, with Shefflin’s efforts to take down the all-conquering Limerick sure to have tongues wagging next year.
There will be no shortage of talent at Shefflin’s disposal with five All-Ireland minor titles in the past seven years, as well as star men like Dáithí Burke, Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon powering the Tribe, but one of his most important tasks will take place far removed from any pitch.
Joe Canning overtook Shefflin’s all-time championship scoring record in his final match against Waterford during this summer’s qualifier loss before sailing off into retirement, and the 2017 Hurler of the Year is sure to be in demand from the new supremo.
Can the King lure the Prince back into the fold? Canning had no intention of making a u-turn at any stage when speaking to independent.ie’s The Throw-In podcast in August.
“Jeez no, no, no, that’s it now,” Canning said of a possible Galway comeback. “If people know me kind of personally, I’m stubborn enough. If I say something, that’s it and that’s the way it is. There’s no return from me I’m afraid, that’s the way it is.”
Shefflin may change that tune, one great to another. And if history and his shock move to Galway tell us anything, he has plenty more surprises in store on what is sure to be a whirlwind ride out west.