Fighting fit and ready; Henry set for semi-final showdown

Fighting fit and ready; Henry set for semi-final showdown
His championship has had a stop-start fashion, but it’s all systems go now as Henry Shefflin aims to propel Kilkenny into an All-Ireland final.

His championship has had a stop-start fashion, but it’s all systems go now as Henry Shefflin aims to propel Kilkenny into an All-Ireland final.

A stress fracture to his foot meant the Ballyhale Shamrocks man sat out the Leinster opener against Offaly, but he’s fighting fit and raring to go,

It’s a warning sign that Limerick will have heeded; Shefflin is looking sharp and fitter than ever in the build-up to Sunday’s semi-final.

“I feel fresh, I feel strong,” he said at the Kilkenny team’s media day before the big game. “I haven’t had those high-intensity matches or trained constantly all year round. I’m hoping that will be of benefit to me now we’re at this stage of the championship.”

Having played in the Walsh Cup and throughout the League, it looked like Shefflin was set for a top year when the Cats got the better of Tipp in the League final.

The game, a belter of an encounter, was a fitting prelude to the championship but ended with more injury frustration as it left the Shamrocks man nursing a stress fracture in his foot.

“It was frustrating,” he admitted. “The plan for me this year was to get a lot of game time in the League to go with training, which I did. I was delighted that I had that match time in my legs as there hadn’t been as much the previous year.

To get the injury was a blow, but I knew myself I had the matches in the bank and that things weren’t as bad as the previous year (when a damaged metatarsal led to another stress fracture). Once I minded myself and got it right, I knew I could come back stronger.”

Having celebrated his 35th birthday in January, Shefflin admitted that age and experience plays a big part in recuperating from injuries.

“Definitely,” he said. “You get to a stage where you listen to your surgeons as they tell you what’s the best thing to do.

“When you come back you feel strong and fit as you have that game-time in the bank,” he added. “It’s easier to get back into the flow of it again.”

There was an air of calmness about Shefflin as he spoke. Looking strong and physically sharp, he seems to be enjoying every element of his 15th championship year with the Cats.

“Now that I’m in my 30s I’m enjoying it a bit more - you do,” he said. People will say ‘you’ve had a lot of injuries, why do you still do it?’. We were away for a few days last week where we trained like professionals - I love that; I get a great buzz out of it. You take it all in because you just don’t know when it will all stop. I know I haven’t much longer, so you enjoy all aspects of it.”

That foot injury may have given him a new appreciation for playing, but that time spent on the sidelines hasn’t been to waste.

“Looking on is never easy,” he admitted. “You want to get out there, of course you do, but you have to see can you identify things that you might try and improve if you do get to go in. You want to try and put your qualities into the game.”

Winning the Leinster final also meant that, unlike last year, Kilkenny were afforded a five-week break before focusing on the national championship. It was time well-spent.

“Going back to the clubs gave players who hadn’t played in Leinster a chance to shake off the cobwebs and get a high intensity match in. The management team mixed things up too - they give us a break, we go to the gym, we train collectively and play matches against each other. It keeps things very fresh.”

Shefflin has also taken the time to run the rule over Sunday’s opponent. While most of the tactical homework will be done this week, he is well aware of the threat Limerick possess.

“I’ve been impressed with them,” he said of the Shannonsiders. “They have been very consistent over the last number of years.

“I remember when we played them in (the quarter-final of) 2012 that it was a ding-dong battle in the first half, but we pulled away in the second.

“People might say their game against Wexford wasn’t great overall, but when the game was lively in the first 25 minutes I was impressed with how sharp they were,” he added. “They hurled very well. They will provide serious opposition.”