Tuesday 20 February 2018

Henry will be better than ever – Keher

Injured Kilkenny duo Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly look on from the sidelines in Tullamore
Injured Kilkenny duo Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly look on from the sidelines in Tullamore

John Fallon

Kilkenny legend Eddie Keher believes Henry Shefflin will be even more influential when he returns for the Cats this summer as they bid to retain their All-Ireland.

He said Shefflin put in a huge effort to be fit for the start of the defence of their All-Ireland, but, while he missed his first championship match in the Brian Cody era, Keher believes he will make some impact on his return.

"He is a phenomenal player. The amount of work he has put in since he got that injury. I know what he is doing, I am in contact with him quite regularly and I know the work he does on his own to get right.

"He is so unfortunate. He may have overdone it this time in trying to get ready for the first round of the championship.

"But he will be back, knowing Henry, better than ever. He has worked himself through so many injuries in the last number of years," said Keher.

The Cats legend believes players of Shefflin's quality ensure the game remained strong in Kilkenny as young players taking up the game model themselves on the likes of King Henry.

Keher, now 71, maintains a strong interest in hurling, but also in other sports, especially in his role as chairman of the Sports Arena in University of Limerick, where Munster recently announced they were going to locate their permanent training base.

SIMILARITIES

Keher, the winner of six All-Irelands and an All Star five years in row when the scheme started in 1971, sees a lot of similarities with Munster rugby and Kilkenny hurling.

"The sports are different, but there are things that can be learned from each other. But from a GAA point of view, from a hurling point of view, the important thing is the skill level, we need to make sure there is nothing lost."

He is in favour of the appliance of science in improving sport, but is anxious that the basics are not lost. Down through the decades handball alleys have produced a succession of great Kilkenny hurlers. The gable end of a house or barn has also sharpened the skills, Keher notes.

"The spirit in Kilkenny hurling can be compared to the Munster spirit in rugby. The current Kilkenny team, in particular, just love to play and they want to win everything.

"It is inspiring all of the young people in Kilkenny. And when you talk about pucking the ball around the ball alley or against the wall, if you walk through Kilkenny, all the youngsters on the street have hurls.

"Both girls and boys puck the ball against the wall.

"So, how do you create that? Obviously, the young people have been inspired with the success of the Kilkenny team over the last decade and more. And of course these players over the years have been the heroes of the young people.

"So that spirit is there. And when you get involved with the game, it is such a fantastic game to play, the skill level, the speed, everything involved in hurling is so enjoyable and once they get sucked into it they just want to play it, and that's it.

"The current team are an inspiration – I have had the pleasure of going on holidays with them – and you'd have to be proud of the way they behave even on holidays. But their dedication to the game is fantastic and they just play together as a team. They all put it in, they are all inspired by Henry and the fellas that are there with the experience," said the Inistioge native.

Keher enjoys his role with UL, especially the way it opens the door for him to engage with other sports, while he is proud of the developments which have been made for sport on the campus.

"I suppose one of the big things for us is that now the Munster team are going to have their training base there. They have been there over the past few years and it was great to see them around. They have added so much to the prestige of the whole campus. It is an honour for us to have them here.

"There has been fantastic developments in UL, the latest being the all-weather pitches on the north side. there are rugby, GAA and two soccer pitches there of the highest standards – it's identical to playing on grass. That's the latest big thing that has happened there. In my early days involved, it was the 50-metre pool and the indoor arena.

"Hurling is using more science and that is good. Hurling is all the better for it. I know people tend to think it was better in the old days, but it was not really. It was great for the times that were in it, but the hurling now is terrific. We are all learning from this and learning from one another.

"But you have to careful too. You hear stories of what's going on somewhere, fellas getting up at five in the morning and you say: 'Should we be getting up at five in the morning?'

"So you have to be careful of what you listen to and what you do.

"The basic skills of the game are still the same and that's the one area a player needs to keep improving," added the 1972 Hurler of the Year.

Irish Independent

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