KILKENNY star, Henry Shefflin, is on the road to recovery but when he will be ready to return to hurling action is the million dollar question.
Following another winter of rehabilitation work after serious surgery, the eight times All-Ireland medal winner is on the final leg of the journey, but there will be no rushing back.
“Basically my body will tell me when I am fit to return,” he told the ’People this week.
“I just don’t know at the minute,” added the Ballyhale Shamrocks attacker. “I haven’t done enough work to know. When I take a few knocks on the training field I will have a better idea.
“I am not going to go back playing unless I am right. If I did, you would be a) hiding a bit and you wouldn’t be of any benefit to the team; and B) you might get hurt. I don’t think I could face another long lay-off.”
The championship record scorer spent the winter of 2010 doing rehabilitation work following a second cruciate ligament replacement. Last winter was spent building up his left shoulder which required surgery to reconstruct shattered cartilage.
While Shefflin, who turned 33 on January 11, admitted he was back doing a bit of hurling and drills with his club and the county squad, it was all easy, non-contact stuff.
He was trying to step up the physical work, but with the club and county teams between matches and not doing hard training, he was caught in a sort of limbo.
Last week, for example, the Shamrocks didn’t over exert themselves because they had a local senior league game at the weekend. This week Kilkenny won’t be pushing things too much because of Sunday’s National League final against Cork.
“I need heavier work. I need contact and matches, match practice,” insisted Shefflin when we spoke at the Centra ‘Brighten Up Your Day’ coaching school for young children at Nowlan Park on Saturday.
“I am not getting as much as I would like. I have done all the strength building and conditioning work in the gym and so on. I need match practice now.”
When the word spread recently that Shefflin was back playing a bit of hurling, almost immediately the speculation was that he was ready to get his glittering career back on track.
Would he make the Leinster championship opener in June?
“I don’t honestly know,” he replied. “I would have said the same thing at this time last year. It all depends how I go when I get back training. That is my first base.
“If I got a couple of weeks of good training and felt good, I would definitely be in with a chance. The year is getting on. It is May now.”
He wondered aloud about the two upcoming club matches against Dunnamaggin and St Martin’s, and then provided the answer without a prompt.
“I would be foolish to say I will be back for the club matches. I would love to try one of them, but it all depends how I go at training with Shamrocks and Kilkenny.”
“I am getting closer, but I would want to be at this stage.”
The All-Ireland winning captain of 2007 relived the day he injured his shoulder. It was in the semi-final of the championship against O’Loughlin Gaels. He was knocked by a tackle that hit him on the right side. The impact when his left shoulder smashing into the ground was severe.
The damage was done……all the cartilage in the shoulder was torn. He continued playing for a few weeks, not knowing that every time he felt pain his shoulder was popping in and out.
“Because the cartilage was torn the shoulder was popping in and out,” Henry smiled, almost amused when he thought about it.
“I was getting a sensation in the shoulder, but I thought it was only a bit of pain and it would go away. When the shoulder went out of place I would be sore for about two minutes and then it would go back in place.”
Remarkably, he somehow mustered the strength to shoot a brilliant equalising point from a huge distance against James Stephens on rotten wet and windy day in the county final.
“I thought it was just a knock in the shoulder and it would pass. That probably suited me; because I was playing thinking I just had a sore shoulder.”
Following the defeat in the county final replay, Shefflin had the shoulder examined by top surgeon Darragh Hynes. The diagnosis shocked.
Nearly fell off chair
“When he told me what was wrong and that I would be out for six months I nearly fell off the chair,” he admitted. “After the last couple of years with the cruciate injuries and so on I was looking forward to a bit of a break over the winter and to the year ahead. The news hit me hard.”
The long, lonely hours of rehab work were hard. Learning the extent of the injury was hard in light of the knee problems he had experienced earlier. It wasn’t easy after surgery either when he was incapacitated and in a sling.
“When you have bad days you don’t see any light,” he recalled. “Then you have good days. Once you get out of the sling you feel you are making progress.
“Then you can have bad days when you get back training. There is always the fear of a setback. I have a bit of experience of going through rehab after the knees.
“To be honest, I have a bit more experience of injuries than I would ever have wanted,” he insisted.
Shefflin was energised by what was happening around him. Kilkenny back in the League final again – they lost last year against Dublin – was good for everyone in the camp, he insisted.
“There are two competitions in the year and we are in the final of one of them,” he said. “It is great for the players and fans to be looking forward to Sunday’s final. It is a big day.
“Playing Cork as well adds to it. There is a lot of razzmatazz about Cork. New players coming through can only be good for Kilkenny. This final is not to make up for last year. You can only look at what is in front of you, not what is behind.
“When you get to the final you want to win. It is an important match. That is the way Kilkenny think about every match.”
Although there is no deadline for a return, Henry Shefflin is looking forward to the season ahead. There is still much work to do, he insisted.
“Once you get back there is the thing about getting your confidence right,” he explained. “People probably don’t realise that. People see you on the field and think you are back.
“Anyone getting over a long term injury will tell you there is more to getting back than going out on the field for a casual puck about. You need to get a couple of match and a good run of training. If you can get that, then you can begin to make real progress.”