Shefflin making strides on long road to recovery
Talisman hopes to be back in Kilkenny fold in time to make his mark on All-Ireland series
THERE he was. The King. Henry Shefflin. Sitting among a group of journalists in a Premium Suite in Croke Park.
Outside, through the open pitch-side door, we could hear the shouts and calls for the ball as inter-bank teams played Gaelic football on the hallowed green sward of GAA headquarters.
Sun blazed out of the heavens. And there was Henry, nine times an All-Ireland winner, condemned to sitting indoors making sure he didn't put a foot wrong verbally – or indeed literally – as he paid a visit to the arena which has become a home away from home for him and the Cats.
A prime time in the season, beautiful weather for hurling, but for Shefflin, the die is cast. This weekend will see his wonderful record of 62 consecutive championship appearances for Kilkenny come to a halt – and all due to injury.
A stress fracture which compounded an earlier broken foot means the great man must sit idly by in Tullamore on Sunday when the All-Ireland title holders open their Leinster campaign against Offaly.
Shefflin is condemned, probably, to miss out on Kilkenny's championship action until the All-Ireland series. But come August at latest, he hopes and trusts the injuries will be cleared up and he will have the all-clear to wear the black and amber jersey at the business end of the season.
A phenomenal 10th All-Ireland medal tantalisingly beckons as the prize for regaining fitness come September, and no stone will be left unturned as the Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman strives for harmony between body and mind.
The latest bulletin – and he's hoping there won't be too many more medical updates to give to media and supporters anxious for updates – is that the healing process is on target.
"I was in to see my surgeon yesterday. I'm out of the protective boot," he said. "I'm just allowed walk around in everyday life now, and just get the foot in some way used to it. And then just go back in to see him again and see what the progress is then.
"I know it's slow and that's the diagnosis. The concern with a stress fracture is that you go back and you do too much on it too quickly and it just reoccurs."
Shefflin's demeanour was calm, measured and unruffled, which is very much the same as he appears on the pitch in the heat of battle.
And even when a Doubting Thomas within our ranks asked, "so you're definitely out this weekend?" he didn't guffaw or snort in derision.
He merely looked the questioner in the eye and replied: "Do you think I'm trying to cod you or something? That's the story. If you saw me yesterday I was wearing a big (protective) boot, like you saw on me before.
"As I said, it will be another couple of weeks before I go back in (to see the surgeon), so I'm a good few weeks away because obviously I've to start training and trying to get back up to speed.
"The next question you're going to ask me is when will I be back? I don't honestly know. It's definitely four, five, six weeks away at this stage."
Henry will travel with the Noresiders and be with the official party for the game against Offaly. It surely must be a tough one. Since June 1999, when he began his championship career against Laois, Shefflin has never missed a summer game for Kilkenny in the Leinster or All-Ireland series.
How does he feel he will react?
"Not so much now, but I think come Friday, Saturday, Sunday when the team is named, the team meeting, going to the match on Sunday, obviously it will feel a bit strange, but I suppose I've had the experience of missing the big days, the league finals and so on.
"Of course I'm going to be itching to get out there; and especially the weather that's in it, it's real championship weather as well, so it's probably adding to it. As I said, I've known for a while, but Sunday will be the first time to be experiencing it so I don't know what way I'll react."
This is a new situation for Shefflin, for while he says he has had "only" four serious injuries in his career since 1999 – two cruciates, a shoulder and this foot problem – up until now the timing of injury and rehab allowed him turn up for duty in each championship.
"I've been very lucky with the success I've had and the time the injuries happened," he said. "Obviously this one is disappointing. But you can't have a bed of roses the whole time. You're going to get divots in the road. This is definitely one of them."