Monday 26 August 2019

Evan Shefflin all set to halt Model train in Leinster U-20 decider

Kilkenny's Evan Shefflin. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny's Evan Shefflin. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

When you're managed by DJ Carey, mentored by Henry Shefflin and honed your craft marking Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, chances are you've crammed a bigger hurling education into your teenage years than most players get in a lifetime.

So it is for Evan Shefflin - nephew to Henry - who will be the beating heart of Kilkenny's midfield in tonight's Bord Gáis Energy Leinster U-20 hurling final. For all that Wexford Park should prove an intimidating fortress for the Cats - the Model County looking to complete a clean sweep of Leinster hurling titles for the first time since 1970 - all objective measurements suggest they can spoil the party for the hosts.

"We know that they are going to bring a huge crowd and they are going to do what the seniors do - make the middle third a war zone," says Shefflin. "They would be feeding off the (success of the Wexford) seniors but they wouldn't have the experience we like to think we have."

It's been a couple of years since these two outfits clashed in a similar realm, Kilkenny beating Wexford by 12 points in Nowlan Park in the 2017 Leinster MHC. But Shefflin is understandably wary of a county riding a wave. "You can't beat winning and we are going to have to try and stop that. Going down there is going to be a massive task."

The kind of challenge he's used to by now. His new normal.

In March, Shefflin helped Ballyhale Shamrocks to the All-Ireland club title, with Henry taking his first All-Ireland victory as a manager. Evan was born the day Henry played his first All-Ireland final in 1999, and the 19-year-old doesn't remember much of his uncle's playing career.

Oblivious

"I was oblivious to it for a while but when I started going to (St) Kieran's (College), people would come up asking, 'Are you related?' Then it starts to hit you. He does help me a lot. He's very insightful and he criticises me just as he criticises everybody else when needs be."

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Shortly after their Croke Park triumph he got his senior call-up from Brian Cody. "When a call like that comes, you're not going to say no," says Shefflin, who got a baptism of fire at his first senior training. "There's not many soft introductions when you go into Kilkenny. It's either kill or be killed. It's the attitude you have to bring and if you don't you are going to know about it."

The big thing he learned? "Just your use of the ball and head-up hurling - getting rid of the ball a lot quicker than you would be because it's a huge step up even from club hurling."

Under the stewardship of DJ Carey, the Kilkenny U-20s have long looked Leinster champions in waiting, putting 5-21 past Laois in the quarter-final before beating Galway by four in the semi-final earlier this month.

"He's a very insightful man," says Shefflin of Carey. "Whenever we are at training he just throws the ball in and lets us hurl away and if he stops it, it's because we're not doing what he wants us to be doing."

Carrying the Shefflin name can be both a blessing and a burden: it gets him noticed but also scrutinised like few of his peers. "You'll always have people talking, saying he's only here because this, that and the other," he says. "You have to prove yourself every day you go out."

Of late, that's something he's been doing in an indisputable manner.

Wexford v Kilkenny, Live, TG4 7.30

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