Monday 18 December 2017

Milestone gives Shefflin sense of real completion

'Henry Shefflin has ticked all the boxes in everything a manager would have wanted in a player. If leadership is his greatest asset then versatility is high up on his CV too.' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
'Henry Shefflin has ticked all the boxes in everything a manager would have wanted in a player. If leadership is his greatest asset then versatility is high up on his CV too.' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When all the characteristics that have made Henry Shefflin the most successful and greatest hurler of this or probably any generation are distilled into one moment, perhaps the first exchange of the second half of the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final is worth recalling.

It was far from his greatest moment, it wasn't the flashiest piece of play he had ever produced or even the most important. But it said so much about him.

Galway had twice led by seven points in the opening half and at the break there was still a degree of comfort about their 1-9 to 0-7 lead.

Shefflin had started in the left corner of Kilkenny's attack but, without apparent prompt, had moved out to centre-forward midway through the half to try and exert a stronger influence on a game that was threatening to get away from them.

As the ball was thrown in for the second half Shefflin sprinted straight at the four midfielders and swept up a break before delivering to Richie Power who was fouled for a free that Shefflin himself would convert to reduce the gap to four.

In that moment there was the best of Shefflin neatly encapsulated - the awareness, the skill, the drive, the vision but, above all, the leadership.

Then 33, it was he who rustled up the posse in pursuit of Galway, he who led that charge. The zip and energy he showed to get things under way and make a quick statement had an impact on his own players as much as Galway would have recognised it.

They fed off it and within 15 minutes they had drawn level, with Shefflin at the core of so much productivity.

He finished "Hurler of the Year" that year and, if there was any lingering doubt before the season, he had confirmed his status as the greatest player of the modern era.

The greatest ever? It would be hard to take that from him too.

He has every record that is worth having from most All-Ireland medals, most All Stars and the highest scorer in championship history, a record he claimed four years ago when he surpassed his own county man Eddie Keher who himself had held the record for some 38 years.

But standing alone as the first man to win 10 senior All-Ireland medals has that sub-four-minute mile feel to it, that something really special has been achieved.

The assumption after Saturday's crowning glory is that he will walk away content with what he has. It ended well but it didn't always go well for him.

The sum total of just 17 minutes action over 140 minutes of an All-Ireland final and replay is hardly a ringing endorsement of an inviting future in black and amber.

Pursue

But that in itself may be the trigger to pursue a 17th season in inter-county hurling. The nature of the man suggests it can't be ruled out.

He has ticked all the boxes in everything a manager would have wanted in a player. If leadership is his greatest asset then versatility is high up on his CV too.

Such versatility is reflected in the variety of positions that he has started in his 10 successful All-Ireland finals.

Twice he has taken up residency at full-forward (2006 and 2007), twice he had docked at centre-forward (2002 and 2012), right half-forward was his starting point for the 2003 and 2008 finals while 2000, his first successful final, saw him at left corner-forward with delegation to left half-forward in 2011.

For some of those positional choices there were intended targets in mind. In 2007 he had played his previous game against Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final at centre-forward but Kilkenny looked for success from an early barrage and Shefflin hit 1-2 from full-forward before having to come off with a ruptured cruciate ligament.

In 2011 he placed himself at left half-forward in the company of one of Tipperary's most inexperienced players John O'Keeffe and reaped dividends from his aerial dominance.

He delivered so many power plays too. The two goals against Waterford in the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final after sustaining a nasty eye injury in the All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Clare, the 1-14 against the same opponents in the corresponding game five years later.

For skill and absolute control the point he scored against Cork in the league match between the teams in Nowlan Park in 2009, not long after the Cork players had picked up their tools again after a winter sit-out over Gerald McCarthy's re-appointment, stands out. The Ballyhale legend managed to evade three tacklers before his sublime final turn to shake off Tom Kenny and pop a point of his left, one of 10 he scored that day.

For nerve there was the penalty he converted in the 2009 All-Ireland final against Tipperary.

After 63 minutes Kilkenny were two points adrift when Richie Power was adjudged to have been fouled. It was a dubious award but Shefflin didn't flinch and his conversion put his team ahead for the first time in 23 minutes. They didn't look back.

However, nothing has reflected his determination more than his recovery from a sequence of injuries that would have brought a much earlier end to almost any other career.

A cruciate ligament rupture, broken bones in either foot, stress fractures, torn cartilage in a shoulder joint that required surgery in the last four years alone have severely tested his resolve.

Shefflin is likely to feel less a sense of completion about this season given his more peripheral role but with the scale of the injuries he has had and the setbacks around him maybe being there at all is the greatest testament to the hurler he is.

 

Perfect 10: Henry Shefflin's All-Ireland final wins

2000 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 5-15, Offaly 1-15

This wasn't Shefflins first All-Ireland final appearance as he had played in the defeat to Cork 12 months earlier but he hit 1-3 as part of a full-forward line containing Charlie Carter and DJ Carey that contributed a devastating 4-10 between them. It was a high-pressure game for the Cats who would have become the first team to lose three finals in a row had they been defeated but the win got Shefflin off the mark and would signal a new era for Kilkenny hurling.

2002 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 2-20, Clare 0-19

The Cats went five points up after just six minutes and were in cruise control for most of the day. Shefflin and Carey were a devastating double act with an Irish Independent report stating the Ballyhale man "scored and created at will". Shefflin finished the day with 1-7 to collect his second title and help the Cats complete a league/championship double for the first time since 1983, losing just one competitive game in the process. He was also named Hurler of the Year for the first time.

2003 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 1-14, Cork 1-11

Operating at half-forward, Shefflin spent much of the day in the company of Cork's Sean Og O hAilpin. The Ballyhale man hit six points, four coming from crucial frees when the game hung in the balance. He also played in Martin Comerford for the game-breaking goal five minutes from time. 

2006 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 1-16, Cork 1-13

A sweet one for Kilkenny who ended Cork's dreams of winning three in a row in the same way the Rebels had dashed similar hopes they held going into the 2004 decider. Shefflin hit eight points and was named Hurler of the Year for the second time as the Cats claimed the first of what would be four consecutive titles.

2007 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 2-19, Limerick 1-15

A bittersweet win for Shefflin who captained Kilkenny to All-Ireland success but was forced off at half-time with a knee injury. He already had 1-2 on the board at that stage as Kilkenny raced clear of the Treaty men in the early stages and never looked back.

2008 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 3-30, Waterford 1-13

An utterly dominant performance with Eddie Brennan (2-4) and Shefflin (0-8) leading the way in the scoring stakes. The Cats hit 3-24 from play in a game that was all but over after the first quarter. It was a memorable year for Kilkenny would move clear of Cork at the top of the roll of honour on 31 All-Ireland titles. The county would also complete a remarkable treble in 2008, winning All-Ireland titles in minor, U-21, intermediate and senior grades.

2009 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 2-22, Tipperary 0-23

This game sparked a new era in the great rivalry between the two counties and wrote this Kilkenny team into the history books as they became only the second team to win four titles in the bounce after the Cork side of the 1940s. Shefflin hit 1-8, including a late penalty that handed his side the initiative before Martin Comerford's goal finished the job.

2011 All-Ireland SHC final - Kilkenny 2-17, Tipperary 1-16

The 'Drive for Five' in 2010 ended in disappointment for Kilkenny but there was a personal milestone for Shefflin that year as he became the all-time top scorer in championship history, surpassing county man Eddie Keher. The 2011 decider saw the same two teams meet in three successive finals for the first time and Shefflin hit 0-7. He would win his record tenth All Star award later that year, taking him clear of DJ Carey and former Kerry footballer Pat Spillane.

2012 All-Ireland SHC final (replay) - Kilkenny 3-22, Galway 3-11

After Galway inflicted a hammering on the Cats in the Leinster final, the sides played out a draw in the first All-Ireland decider. Shefflin hit 12 points in that game, dragging his back from the brink in one of his most influential displays in a final. And in the replay he hit 0-9 to help him become the first player to win nine All-Ireland medals on the field of play and finished the campaign by being named Hurler of the Year.

2014 All-Ireland SHC final (replay) - Kilkenny 2-17, Tipperary 2-14

Shefflin was only afforded a few minutes in the drawn game after another season dogged by injury but he was given more time as Kilkenny edged Tipperary last Sunday. He moved clear of the chasing pack with a record-breaking ten All-Ireland medals and Kilkenny's record holder for championship appearances on 71 wouldn't be drawn on whether he'll be back for 2015. Regardless of his next move, Shefflin's place in history is assured.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport