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High King Henry's abdication leaves great memories of lengthy reign on lofty peak

Henry Shefflin's career in pictures Close

Henry Shefflin celebrates last year's All-Ireland final win

Henry Shefflin celebrates last year's All-Ireland final win

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates winning the All Ireland Senior Championship

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates winning the All Ireland Senior Championship

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Henry Shefflin gives a thumbs-up to Ballyhale’s record sixth All-Ireland title

Henry Shefflin gives a thumbs-up to Ballyhale’s record sixth All-Ireland title

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Henry Shefflin, Ballyhale Shamrocks, kisses the cup. AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final, Ballyhale Shamrocks, Co Kilkenny, v Kilmallock, Co Limerick. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Henry Shefflin, Ballyhale Shamrocks, kisses the cup. AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final, Ballyhale Shamrocks, Co Kilkenny, v Kilmallock, Co Limerick. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

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Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin

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Barry Kelly sends off Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin in last year's All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final

Barry Kelly sends off Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin in last year's All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final

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30 September 2012; Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup and winning his 9th All-Ireland medal. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

30 September 2012; Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup and winning his 9th All-Ireland medal. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Henry Shefflin reacts after scoring a point against Galway in the 2012 All-Ireland final

Henry Shefflin reacts after scoring a point against Galway in the 2012 All-Ireland final

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin with Pat Hickey,President of the Olympic Council of Ireland (left) and  Liam O'Neill,President of the GAA  at Croke Park for the Olympic Torch relay in 2012

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin with Pat Hickey,President of the Olympic Council of Ireland (left) and Liam O'Neill,President of the GAA at Croke Park for the Olympic Torch relay in 2012

Henry  lifts and hugs his daughter Sadhbh.

Henry lifts and hugs his daughter Sadhbh.

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2011

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2011

Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin holds his knee after pulling up injured, forcing him off in the early part of the All-Ireland final. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin holds his knee after pulling up injured, forcing him off in the early part of the All-Ireland final. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin receiving treatment after suffering a knee injury in Croke Park on Sunday.

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin receiving treatment after suffering a knee injury in Croke Park on Sunday.

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal in their All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final win over Waterford in 2009

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal in their All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final win over Waterford in 2009

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Brian Cody embraces his talisman Henry Shefflin after the 2003 All-Ireland final.

Brian Cody embraces his talisman Henry Shefflin after the 2003 All-Ireland final.

Ballyhale Shamrock's players, from left, Henry Shefflin, Alan Cuddihy and Michael Fennelly celebrate after their win in the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship Final between Clara v Ballyhale Shamrocks last year

Ballyhale Shamrock's players, from left, Henry Shefflin, Alan Cuddihy and Michael Fennelly celebrate after their win in the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship Final between Clara v Ballyhale Shamrocks last year

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 Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after victory over Limerick in the 2007 All-Ireland

Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after victory over Limerick in the 2007 All-Ireland

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Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup with Darragh McGarry, son of James McGarry, right. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Limerick in 2007

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup with Darragh McGarry, son of James McGarry, right. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Limerick in 2007

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Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin holds the Leinster Senior Cup as Wexford players make their way to their dressing room. Guinness Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final in 2007

Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin holds the Leinster Senior Cup as Wexford players make their way to their dressing room. Guinness Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Final in 2007

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Kilkenny Hurler Henry Shefflin married Deirdre O'Sullivan at Callan, Co. Kilkenny in 2007. Photo Patrick Browne Jnr

Kilkenny Hurler Henry Shefflin married Deirdre O'Sullivan at Callan, Co. Kilkenny in 2007. Photo Patrick Browne Jnr

Ballyhale Shamrocks players Tom Coogan, left, and Henry Shefflin lift the Tommy Moore Cup after the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship Final in 2007. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Ballyhale Shamrocks players Tom Coogan, left, and Henry Shefflin lift the Tommy Moore Cup after the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship Final in 2007. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

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Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, commiserates with Cork players, l to r, Ronan Curran, John Gardiner, Kieran Murphy, Sarsfields, Wayne Sherlock, Sean Og O hAilpin and Donal Og Cusack. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final in 2006

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, commiserates with Cork players, l to r, Ronan Curran, John Gardiner, Kieran Murphy, Sarsfields, Wayne Sherlock, Sean Og O hAilpin and Donal Og Cusack. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final in 2006

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David Fitzgerald, Clare, squares up to Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, watched by team-mates Frank Lohan (2) and Sean McMahon, Clare. Allianz National Hurling League, Division 1 Final in 2005

David Fitzgerald, Clare, squares up to Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, watched by team-mates Frank Lohan (2) and Sean McMahon, Clare. Allianz National Hurling League, Division 1 Final in 2005

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Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, scores a last minute point. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, Semi-Final, Kilkenny v Clare, Croke Park, Dublin in 2006. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, scores a last minute point. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, Semi-Final, Kilkenny v Clare, Croke Park, Dublin in 2006. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

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Donal Og Cusack, Cork, in action against Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny during the 2004 All-Ireland final

Donal Og Cusack, Cork, in action against Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny during the 2004 All-Ireland final

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Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin leaves the field with an eye injury during the Guinness All-Ireland Hurling Championship Quarter Final Replay against Clare in 2004

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin leaves the field with an eye injury during the Guinness All-Ireland Hurling Championship Quarter Final Replay against Clare in 2004

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The Kilkenny doctor Tadhg Crowley attends to Henry Shefflin as referee Pat Horan and Clare's Gerry Quibb look on during their  All-Ireland Hurling Championship Quarter Final Replay
 at Semple Stadium in 2004

The Kilkenny doctor Tadhg Crowley attends to Henry Shefflin as referee Pat Horan and Clare's Gerry Quibb look on during their All-Ireland Hurling Championship Quarter Final Replay at Semple Stadium in 2004

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Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup after the All-Ireland victory over Clare in 2002

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup after the All-Ireland victory over Clare in 2002

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin shoots to score his side's goal despite the presence of Stephen Byrne, left and Kevin Martin, Offaly in the 2000 All Ireland Hurling Championship Final. Picture credit: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin shoots to score his side's goal despite the presence of Stephen Byrne, left and Kevin Martin, Offaly in the 2000 All Ireland Hurling Championship Final. Picture credit: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, in action against Simon Whelahan in the Cats 1999 Leinster hurling final win

Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, in action against Simon Whelahan in the Cats 1999 Leinster hurling final win

Henry Shefflin in action for Kilkenny against Wexford in the Walsh Cup in 1999. Picture Credit: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE.

Henry Shefflin in action for Kilkenny against Wexford in the Walsh Cup in 1999. Picture Credit: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE.

A fresh-faced Henry Shefflin in 1999

A fresh-faced Henry Shefflin in 1999

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Henry Shefflin celebrates last year's All-Ireland final win

On the morning after the 2009 All-Ireland hurling final, I had a 7.30am appointment with Brian Cody. After working with him on his book throughout the year, all that remained to be completed was the chapter on the final.

Publication deadlines demanded that it be written and despatched to the publishers by Monday night - hence the early start.

Kilkenny had beaten Tipperary by 2-22 to 0-23, a victory margin that looks a lot more convincing in print than was the case on the day. In fact, Kilkenny were three points behind at the hour mark and two down three minutes later.

They hadn't played particularly well in the second half, even after Tipperary had Benny Dunne sent off at the three-quarter-mark.

Then, in the 63rd minute, came the turning point when Richie Power won a penalty, Henry Shefflin scored a goal and Kilkenny were in front and ready to drive on. A second goal followed from sub Martin Comerford after brilliant work by Michael Kavanagh. The four-in-a-row had been secured.

I asked Cody the following morning to recall exactly what was going through his mind as Shefflin lined up the penalty.

Psychological

After all, the outcome of the game probably hinged on it as a miss would have maintained Tipperary's lead, while also providing them with a massive psychological boost heading into the closing minutes. As for Kilkenny, who knows that impact it would have had?

Cody's response encapsulated everything about Shefflin's remarkable career. It still had several seasons to run but this was definitely one of its most important moments.

"There's isn't a guy on earth you'd want more than Henry Shefflin in that situation," said Cody.

"The pressure on him was enormous, but you could tell from his demeanour before he took the penalty that he had everything sorted out neatly in his head. He was cool and concentrated, making sure he did everything to give himself the best possible chance of scoring a goal."

That goal, plus many other crucial scores that he delivered over the past 16 years, will jostle with each other for attention as hurling people recall their own particular highlight.

Yet, it wasn't all about specific scores, or indeed the huge totals amassed in the course of becoming the highest championship scorer in hurling history, that solely defined Shefflin. No, he could be just as influential in equally crucial, if less glamorous roles.

Cody also recalled a game where Shefflin's contribution had a lot more to do with sheer hard work than scoring, yet would rank as one of his best ever performances.

It came in the 2007, when their All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Galway in Croke Park was extremely tight for an hour before Kilkenny pulled away.

"When we were under most pressure, Shefflin responded in an unbelievable way. He fought for every ball like a dog, drove Galway lads in all directions and led the forward line like a real general," said Cody.

"He wasn't waiting for others to win the ball. Instead, he ploughed into the think of the action, took the belts and got on with it. It was all about team and nothing about himself.

"Imagine a young fella looking on, admiring how someone he regarded as a legend got stuck in and did so much dirty work. It was an example to everybody."

Shefflin and Cody set out together on the great Kilkenny adventure in 1999 and, straight away, big responsibility was handed to the 20-year-old Ballyhale newcomer. He even replaced DJ Carey as free-taker, which surprised many at the time.

There were rumours that Carey, one of the great free-takers, was unhappy, which he insists weren't true.

"Henry was brilliant on frees right from the start and so I was happy to let him get on with it and concentrate on all other aspects of my game," said Carey.

The pair played together for Kilkenny between '99 and 2005, which is something of a regret for Carey, who would have loved to have a longer stretch in that excellent Kilkenny attack. However, at the age of 35, he decided it was time to quit.

"To me, the biggest assets Henry had, right from the start, were his willingness to learn, his appetite for work and his general can-do attitude," said Carey.

"Obviously, he had lots of talent too, but not everyone with technical skills makes the grade, let alone rises to the extraordinary heights he has achieved. He improved every single facet of his game and, even then, he kept striving for more."

Carey singled out Shefflin's performance in the second half of the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final against Galway as one of his greatest days.

"His leadership, organisational skills and the sheer effect of his personality - both on his colleagues and on Galway - were immense and played a massive role in saving the day for Kilkenny," he said.

Personally, I regarded Shefflin's attempt to haul Kilkenny back into contention from an impossible position in the second half of the 2012 Leinster final against Galway as equally memorable.

Trailing by 2-12 to 0-4 at half-time, Kilkenny pared six points off the lead in the third quarter, with Shefflin at the heart of the rescue bid. It was always going to be a lost cause, but he maintained the same workrate and determination as if the Cats were trying to wipe out a small deficit.

By the end of 2012, Shefflin had won his third Hurler of the Year award.

One of the great imponderables of Shefflin's career is whether Kilkenny would have won the All-Ireland five-in-a-row in 2010 if he hadn't sustained a knee injury. Having been a doubtful starter before the final, he lasted just 13 minutes before the knee gave way.

Kilkenny lost by 4-17 to 1-18 but the margin was not a genuine reflection of the overall game. There's no doubt that when the temperature soared towards its highest point in the crucial third quarter, Kilkenny certainly missed Shefflin's calm, soothing presence.

Events from so many other days proved just how important that was to Kilkenny.

Irish Independent


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