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Will King Henry abdicate at the end of Ballyhale's season?

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Henry Shefflin is set to decide on his future at the end of Ballyhale's season. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Henry Shefflin is set to decide on his future at the end of Ballyhale's season. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

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A sliotar struck with the velocity that Nash routinely summons carries the equivalent threat of the speeding cricket ball that killed Hughes. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

A sliotar struck with the velocity that Nash routinely summons carries the equivalent threat of the speeding cricket ball that killed Hughes. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

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Henry Shefflin is set to decide on his future at the end of Ballyhale's season. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

If the great rolling wheel of Brian Cody's time with Kilkenny has conveyed any single thing, it is of an authoritarian holding his team in a closed fist.

So we are inclined to presume that the slow haemorrhage of retirements from hurling's richest dressing-room is happening only because he has, in his inimitably stoic way, communicated that to be a wise course of action to those departing. This isn't to infer that he told Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty or David Herity their days as county men were over.

We can say with reasonable certainty that he didn't. It isn't Cody's style. His way has always been to let new realities settle in the player's own mind rather than be executioner.

For all four, Cody's team selections at the business-end of this year's Championship will have read like a redundancy letter sliding out of a slow printer. By the day of the All-Ireland final replay, not one of them was in their manager's plans.

Threat

In Cody's Kilkenny, nobody is spared the threat of exclusion. His management of people can seem cold and sometimes pitiless, but it is legitimised by the most extraordinary arithmetic. How quaint to recall the local newspaper headline of 'Thanks for the memories lads' that greeted his team's defeat in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.

That loss to Galway had been their third Championship setback in two summers. In some quarters, Cody was portrayed as hopelessly old school. Of course, we now know that Kilkenny would win seven of the next nine All-Irelands.

Through that time, his ability to re-seed the group has all but become the definition of a man who does not entertain crises. As conditions of engagement alter, Cody remodels the Cats accordingly.

Yet, faces are changing now at a rate that must be mildly un-nerving. The posse, clearly, is much closer than it was through Kilkenny's four-in-a-row pomp and, given their last two All-Irelands were delivered only after final replays, it seems fair to say that they have been leaning on strength of character lately more than any inordinate superiority.

And maybe the most compelling question of all now has begun to follow Ballyhale Shamrocks through the Leinster Club Championship.

What will Henry Shefflin decide when Ballyhale's season ends? The greatest hurler of them all will be 36 in January, four years older than the departed Walsh.

His fitness and form have been holding this year. Last Sunday in Parnell Park, Shefflin was the top-scorer from play in his club's Leinster semi-final defeat of Kilmacud Crokes.

Cody has never made an exception in terms of sentimentality with a player, and his use of Shefflin in the 2014 Championship suggests that he will not break that habit now. Having started every one of the first 61 Championship matches of Cody's tenure, Henry has been strictly peripheral of late. Injury played havoc with his campaign last year and, though fully fit this term, he was afforded just 66 minutes of game-time. Henry has, thus, now started just one of Kilkenny's last 13 Championship games.

So what is Cody's view of the great man staying around for 2015? Maybe more pertinently, will he be of a mind to articulate that view to Shefflin or just leave Henry draw his own conclusions?

To an outsider, it would seem unthinkable that there might not necessarily be some kind of consultation process, but Cody's history suggests a mistrust of such practice.

It's 10 years now since former player Canice Brennan spoke of Cody's ability to separate the personal from the pragmatic.

"He wasn't as friendly to the players as other managers," said Brennan "and I think for some of the older ones that turned them off hurling for him. There's a ruthless streak in him to win. The only thing that drives him is winning."

A decade on, that drive betrays not the slightest glimpse of weakening. But, as the retirements mount, is there any part of him now worrying about a dressing-room beginning to lose so many powerful voices?

And will he even blink at the prospect of Henry's being among them?

Cricket tragedy will resonate across hurling landscape

The tragic, heart-rending death of cricketer Phillip Hughes surely sent a cold breeze blowing through the chests of hurling people.

It took Anthony Nash's brilliance from penalties and 20-metre frees to alert the GAA authorities to a potentially lethal ambivalence in the rule-book last year. A sliotar struck with the velocity that Nash routinely summons carries the equivalent threat of the speeding cricket ball that killed Hughes.

Nash was entitled to feel a little irked by what, at the time, probably seemed an unfairly personalised debate. But just imagine the potential of a sliotar striking someone's Adam's Apple at 100mph. The adjustment made mid-Championship last year wasn't ideal in that it cut the conversion percentage far too penally. More workable solutions are, we understand, now in the offing.

Either way, hurling had to do something, and we should be thankful that it did.

Flimsy door excuse leaves Wallabies in a jam

Nice of the Australian Rugby Union to clarify the circumstances in which damage was done to a Lansdowne Road dressing-room after last weekend’s defeat to Ireland.

Someone, apparently, tried opening a door the wrong way. This is good to know. Doors are quarrelsome things, as Jack Nicholson found in ‘The Shining’.

They jam inconveniently, sometimes they’re even quite difficult to see. Maybe worst of all is when some wiseacre’s just locked it from the other side and you’re an American President (this happened the last two) trying to make a polished escape from a hostile room.

So it’s entirely understandable that a door opening only one way proved problematic for the beaten Wallabies on Saturday. Doors are difficult. Paula Spencer, after all, kept walking into them. Didn’t she?

Irish Independent