WHAT do others think of ‘Our Henry’, the man some feel can walk on water. Even if he can’t, he can certainly sink opposing teams. We canvassed opinion, writes Barrie Henriques.
In an article written by the marvellous Cork goalkeeper, Donal Og Cusack, in this year’s Kilkenny GAA Yearbook, generally expounding the greatness of Kilkenny hurling, but more specifically the greatness of one Henry Shefflin, one can read the unabridged, unconditional admiration and esteem by the great Cloyne man for the Ballyhale star.
His father told him of Christy Ring’s (a neighbour in Cloyne) evaluation of hurling greatness.
Ring said: “The best hurlers are with us now, and the best hurlers are yet to come”.
Donal Og finishes his piece: “If there is better to come than Henry, I for one would hope to be around to see him. Only please let him wear a red jersey.”
The article is littered with superlatives about the Shamrocks star.
Cusack was with Henry on a trip to America in 2011, and he marvelled at the discipline of the man. He admired how he carried himself, how he behaved, how he was so cautious about what he eat, when he eat it, how he rested. Nothing was left to chance.
He made the point that Henry is more of an instrument of hurling now than he was five years ago.
“He is the perfect example for every young player,” Cusack insisted. “He doesn’t practice and live his life the way he does because he is Henry Shefflin. He is Henry Shefflin BECAUSE he does those things, and doesn’t stop. He drives on. This is the fella who says himself that he got on the school team because they needed a big arse around the square.”
Jimmy Barry Murphy
The former Cork great and present manager waxed lyrical about Henry.
“He is most certainly the greatest hurler that I have ever seen, and I even saw Christy Ring towards the end of his days. But this guy outshines everything that I have ever seen on a hurling field. His work ethic is amazing, and one that others must aspire to if they are to reach the stars.
“What I really love about him is his devotion to his team, and everything he does, he does it for the betterment of his own team-mates, first and foremost. I am thinking of Walter Walsh’s point in the All-Ireland final replay, when Henry won the ball, and it was bread and butter stuff to him to put it over the bar. But he elected to hand it out to young Walsh and sure the rest is history.
“I thought that his display in the All Ireland final drawn match was one of the best that I have ever seen from one man. With respect to the rest of the team, he practically hauled Kilkenny over the end line to earn the draw. His display in the replay was equally brilliant. I am delighted to have been around to see him in action. Pure genius.”
Jim Bolger, one of the tremendous success stories of Irish racing over a long and distinguished career, is an avid follower of hurling, in particular the fortunes of his beloved Wexford.
“If I was to appraise Henry Shefflin in a single word, I would say, winner. It is difficult to say that he is the greatest hurler of all time, because none of us has seen every hurler, and none of us is a fortune-teller, so we do not know what is coming down the track. But what I will say is that he is quite positively the greatest hurler that I have ever seen.
“What impresses me as well is his demeanour on the pitch, and his conduct and manner off the pitch. You never see him involved in any unsavoury incidents, and I would say that he is a thorough gentleman. But what skill the man possesses.
“I remember a great friend of mine, the formidable Billy Rackard God rest him, one day telling me that with his brothers, Nicky and Bobby (what a trio those great men were) they would walk across Croke Park together with a swagger in their step as if they belonged to the place, and as if they owned it. It was born of a confidence in their own abilities. It had nothing to do with cockiness. Neither did it have anything to do with a demonstration of boastful disposition, or even impudence.
“It had all to do with an inner confidence, crafted in the sure knowledge that this was their place, this was where they were at their best, and this was where their abilities deserved to be shown off. Henry always gives me that impression. I think he is a credit to the game, his colours and his county. But then why should one be surprised when you watch the man on the sideline, Brian Cody.
“I always say that Brian is Kilkenny’s sixteenth man, and he above all others is responsible for getting that Kilkenny machine purring so perfectly, with the regularity of success thus achieved. Henry Shefflin and Brian Cody--- nior beidh a leithéad ann aris.”
Pat Henderson, the first Kilkenny manager to record back-to-back doubles (League and Championship) was struggling to assess Henry Shefflin’s contribution to Kilkenny hurling without regurgitating much of the same comment that has been used by a vast cohort of journalists.
You have played with and against some marvellous players over a long distinguished career. Where would you place Henry Shefflin in the pantheon of hurling greatness, we asked?
“I would see tremendous similarity between himself and Keher, in that they both had marvellous consistency of performance, and they both had a huge longevity element to their careers. Mind you Henry is not finished yet. In my playing time there were great hurlers in Cork, Tipp and Wexford.
“Galway, Laois, Dublin, Clare and Limerick had a few too. Jimmy Doyle, for instance, was a superstar, and if he was playing now he would be right up there with the best. Cork had the McCarthys, Barry-Murphy and others. We had Keher and ‘Chunky’, a man that could make a ball talk.
“Latterly we had the marvellous D.J., and we felt that we might never see his likes again. But we have. Henry Shefflin is a big man in every sense. He commands respect and certainly attention. You ignore him at your peril.
Influences all around him
“He exerts a highly-charged influence on everyone around him, and his team ethic is gilt-edged. He is a very modest lad despite his annihilation of every record available to be shot at. I suppose his medal haul, which is never referred to, and his records set him apart from all others presently.
“Keher was the same. He smashed records at will. But until someone better than Henry comes along, yes, he is the greatest that I have seen, and yes he has the tee-shirt to prove it.”