THE supreme champions were given a supreme reception when honoured at the all star gathering that was the Hotel Kilkenny and Kilkenny People annual sports star banquet.
The two Kilkenny hurlers who have achieved it all, and then some, were honoured as the joint winners of the Supreme Award, which is recognised as the highest accolade in sport in the county.
Henry Shefflin and Noel Hickey, who both won their ninth All-Ireland senior hurling championship medal with Kilkenny in September, were honoured as the Supreme Award winners for 2012.
The pair were given a standing ovation by the near 150 invited guests when MC Derek Dooley made the announcement. And on hand and one of the first to congratulate the winners was former Kilkenny great, Noel Skehan, the only other player in the county to hold nine All-Ireland winners medals. Skehan won his medals between 1963 and 1983.
The Supreme Award was presented by former Wexford hurling manager, Liam Griffin, the managing director of the Griffin hotel Group, the owners of Hotel Kilkenny.
The citation suggested that every year turned up different challenges, different heroes or heroines and levels of achievement in the wonderfully entertaining and often spellbinding arena that is sport in Ireland.
“We are a nation who embrace our sporting heroes like few others,” it continued. “Passion abounds. Achievement is recognised and celebrated with gusto, and the entire country can be moved by the high of the achievement. Look back to the summer just passed.
“Who wasn’t moved by the golden journey enjoyed by Katie Taylor at the Olympic Games in London? There were times when her opponents must have felt they were being clobbered by an entire national such was the wave of enthusiasm and emotion backing her.
“A small country buying into the achievement of one of its own.
“The comparison is not lost on Kilkenny, a relatively small county, but one big on achievement; one big on appreciation too.
“Kilkenny is lucky to be blessed with a rich quota of high achievers in a multiple of disciplines. Tradition has gifted the people something huge that they cherish dearly; something others on the outside look in at and admire. And that wonderful tradition of achievement is being built on every single year.
“As achievements grow, records tumble.
“Right now Kilkenny is enjoying an unprecedented run of achievements..........in hurling. The players, under the shrewd leadership of manager, Brian Cody and selectors, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty are a source of wonder to others.
“The way they drive on from one success to the next has captured the imagination of others involved in sport, including in the professional ranks. When people like rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll and soccer legend Roy Keane reference the Kilkenny hurlers as people with an attitude to admire, you know you have made it.
“This year team captain, Eoin Larkin led the county to its 34th All-Ireland senior hurling victory, and sixth in seven years. It was a great day for him, his family and club.
“However, in the ranks were two high end achievers, namely Henry Shefflin and Noel Hickey. They both won their 9th All-Ireland senior medal. The former joined the panel in 1999, the latter the following season.
“Thirteen All-Ireland finals have been played since they won their first MacCarthy Cup gold in 2000. To add eight more since is just remarkable, unprecedented in terms of the length of the time span.
“And it was far from plain sailing for either of them.
“Henry Shefflin suffered two crucial ligament injuries during that time. Yet he never missed a championship match under the reign of Brian Cody. He has a staggering 62 consecutive championship appearances behind him.
“Noel Hickey’s career was nearly ended by a serious heart complaint a few years ago. In the same determined fashion as Shefflin, he refused to let injury dictate. He roared back. His championship appearances may not be as great at 47, but he retired from the game as a true champion at the end of 2012.
Lived the dream
“The pair have gone step for step, winning 11 Leinster championships, six National Hurling League titles, All-Star honours and just about every award that was there to be won.
“Kilkenny people lived the dream through them and their colleagues......and the hope is that there will be more, much more.
“The stock of All-Ireland medals alone won by Henry Shefflin and Noel Hickey would be enough to earn them distinction. But there was more, much more. As ambassadors in sport, you wouldn’t meet finer.”
The Selection Committee behind the Hotel Kilkenny and Kilkenny People Sports Stars awards scheme is Noel Skehan, Michael Griffin (Operations Manager Hotel Kilkenny) and John Knox (Sports Editor, Kilkenny People).