Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin: I learned lesson from last year – I tried to do too much too quick
Shefflin insists he won't rush return in bid to come back strong as ever
Henry Shefflin sits down and muses as to whether anyone else gets a sense of 'Groundhog Day.'
Weren't we all here around the same time of year before, discussing the same problems, the same stress fracture to his second metatarsal, he asks? Almost 12 months ago to be precise.
"Just play it back there then," says hurling's most decorated exponent, "and ye have it all!"
Except this time Henry is more at ease with it. He knows the drill, he knows what's ahead. He knows with the winter and spring he has put in, he's in a much better place than last year.
From the middle of February to the beginning of May this year he played about as many league games as he had played in the previous eight seasons.
"Which I was delighted with, absolutely thrilled with," he remarks. "I was enjoying going back. I had a few days' break before we went back (for pre-season training) and I had the buzz going back which was great.
"That's what I wanted to do the last few seasons but unfortunately it hadn't worked out like that."
The stress fracture isn't giving him quite the same bother as it did in the build up to the 2013 championship. His knowledge of the injury is better, so much so that he practically diagnosed it himself on the Wednesday after the league final, booking a scan through his surgeon for the following day.
He had felt a touch of ache more than pain in the immediate aftermath of the league final against Tipperary last week. The same again on the Monday after.
"That was the first time I would have said that since last year. But I didn't think much more of it, it was a bit sore after the match on the Monday but that is part and parcel," he says.
Even on the Tuesday night, when he trained with Ballyhale Shamrocks, the symptoms weren't obvious. Walking his daughter to the school bus the following morning, however, he felt something more serious.
"I had the experience of last year so I knew straight away there was something going on there. I was going for lunch that day; I had to walk a little bit, and I felt like that again, an ache in the base of the foot," he says.
"Thankfully I diagnosed it early. I was very much on top of it last week. It's not a pain, it won't stop you. It's very much just a repetitive thing.
"I had no swelling or no puffiness on the foot which I had last year. It was just an ache. When he looked at me last year, when he saw my foot the surgeon said straight off that he knew by looking at it.
"This time, he didn't. It was just the MRI that showed it up.
"This one has just been a very peculiar one. It just shows that the simple things can sometimes catch you out. It came from the other foot injury, which was a serious injury, and that's what led to the weakness of the foot.
"He (surgeon) said these things just happen. Whether it's overuse, change of footwear or hard ground, they're the three causes of this injury that he sees a lot of."
Shefflin – speaking at Croke Park to mark Centra's fifth successive year as a sponsor for the All-Ireland SHC – still feels lucky with injuries despite the problems with both feet over the last 18 months, the shoulder repair he required at the end of 2011 and the cruciate ligament tears he sustained in 2007 and 2010.
He admits that his decision to return to inter-county hurling for a 16th year was a "big" one "because it hadn't been a very good championship for me, injury wise or form-wise" in 2013.
"But I said I'd review it at the end of the year and my year wasn't over then," he explains. "I had a club campaign to go through and, as that went on, I felt that I was getting stronger and better. So I was in good shape physically and I said: 'why not?'
"That was basically it. It was easy when it got to that stage. I didn't really think about it. Once the club campaign had gone fairly well, I just rolled in. Because we finished with the club in October and we were back early doors in November, it happened very quickly."
The latest setback is unlikely to reflect adversely on that decision.
"Lessons will be learned from last year for myself. I tried to do too much too quickly and push myself too quickly," he stresses.
"Of course it's very disappointing for myself. The talk at home, it's all about the start of the championship. But now thoughts have turned to the injury again, which is frustrating. But that's the hand I've been dealt.
"I'm in a lot better position than I was this time last year, I would feel. I have a lot more training done and I've all those matches under my belt. So mentally, I've all that in the bank."
Back in the thick of the action, his observation from the couch at the end of last season that the pace of the game is quickening doesn't hold so much value now.
"I would have always thought that. You say those things, and I've said it before that I thought it was a little bit faster, and I said before I started with Kilkenny but once you get into it, no it's not. There's no difference," he reflects.
"It's still the same game. Obviously some players are faster than other players. I think the game itself, there's some tactics changing but players are still players, a little bit faster and a little bit stronger maybe, but they're still the same human beings.
"We're all the same and I don't think it has changed over time."
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