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Shefflin consigns his dark days to history

Henry Shefflin is dragging his leg a little as he takes a seat and reflects on a competitive comeback match that he feels is a "milestone" in his career.

On Sunday morning he met the first major challenge of his championship season when he climbed out of bed and felt okay.

Of all the strenuous tests he had undergone to check the flexibility and strength of the most famous knee in hurling, Shefflin knew that one of the most routine actions of any person's day would tell him more about his condition and future than anything else.

In his own mind he knew that coming through the game and performing was one thing, but the reaction of his body, particularly his troubled left knee, would tell him everything he needed to know.


So the morning after the night before at Wexford Park, the modern game's greatest exponent passed a personal test he had set for himself.

Only then did he think that he could really move on from the last nine months, a period of time that he acknowledges had plenty of negative days as he debated the future of a stellar career.

"I wanted to wake up the following morning feeling okay. I was happy enough, a small bit sore but the age thing could be coming into it as well," figured the 32-year-old.

Playing at Wexford Park on Saturday night preserved his record of starting every one of Kilkenny's 53 championship matches since making his debut in Brian Cody's first match in charge in 1999 -- a remarkable feat given he has sustained two ruptured cruciate ligaments in that time.

"I never thought of it like that. It was a bit of a milestone. I played a couple of challenge matches but I suppose in a championship game there is a bit more attached to it."

Shefflin admits that mentally it hasn't all been plain sailing since his surgery in late September and that questions about his future at the highest level inevitably flashed through his mind.

"Because of the length of time involved people are always going to be wondering whether it's going to be the finish of your career," he admitted.

"I had no issues with going through it all again. Did I think it might be the end? You just don't know.

"In the dark days after it happened and you're getting the surgery and stuff like that, you have negative days.

"Some days you wake up in good form and other days you're not, and I suppose on those days you're wondering whether you will get back to the level where you want to get back to playing inter-county hurling.

"But that's very early on. Once you kind of get over it the surgeon is testing your knees and saying, 'look, it's going to be fine' or whatever. Then you just have to drive on.

"At the beginning you obviously would feel there is a chance that you won't fully recover, but you have to be positive and that's when you need positive people around you."

He admitted to being a small bit tentative prior to Saturday night but knew from what he had been through in training that his movement was good enough.

"You're ready to go 100pc but you are a small bit tentative, there's no doubt about it. But I am happy enough with how I'm moving more than anything else.

"I suppose the hurling aspect and stuff like that will probably -- hopefully -- come as I get more match action under my belt.

"That for me is the key benefit of it, and I just hope the more training and the more matches... we've three weeks until the Leinster final and a couple of hard weeks to train, so that will stand you in good stead."

Shefflin is adamant that he wouldn't change a thing about his involvement in last year's All-Ireland final and that it was still the right decision to make himself available for selection, even though he limped off in the first half of the defeat to Tipperary.

"I have no doubt about it. It was an opportunity to play, first of all. I was able to run, able to jog and twist and turn -- though obviously not to the level I would have liked, as it turned out.

"If I had been sitting in the stands and I was able to do that I would always have been wondering. At least now I won't be wondering. I was unlucky, John Tennyson was lucky enough to come through it. I started well enough and I did well enough in training so I was happy.

"Just whatever movement I made it wasn't strong enough, but if I didn't play I'd always be wondering 'what if?' I don't have that."

Kilkenny now face Galway or Dublin at Croke Park, but he has given his backing to future semi-finals being played at provincial venues instead of headquarters.

"You can play in front of 20,000 at Croke Park and there is an eerie feeling to it, whereas if you go to one of the provincial grounds there is a good atmosphere around it.

"It is different for the supporters as well. The players like to have that bit of buzz around the occasion as well, around the provincial towns and streets with the supporters.

"Obviously the Munster championship have it with Thurles and Cork. I think it is working well in Leinster."

Meanwhile, Tommy Walsh should be fit to play after missing the weekend match, the first time in his career that he hasn't started a championship outing for Kilkenny.

And John Dalton's suspension from the hurling league final will also have expired ahead of the provincial decider.

Irish Independent