‘King Henry’ to ponder abdication

Henry Shefflin celebrates winning his tenth All-Ireland Senior Hurling All-Ireland in Croke Park.  (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
It was a pressure-filled 13 minute cameo role, but it was significant enough to rewrite the voluminous 130 year old GAA record books.

It was a pressure-filled 13 minute cameo role, but it was significant enough to rewrite the voluminous 130 year old GAA record books.

Henry Shefflin, proud son of the parish of Ballyhale in South Kilkenny, rewrote the hurling records at Croke Park on Saturday when he helped Kilkenny to victory in the All-Ireland final replay against Tipperary, claiming an unmatched 10th winners medal.

Before the weekend Shefflin, Noel Skehan (Bennettsbridge) and Noel Hickey (Dunnamaggin) shared the record as the holders of nine Celtic crosses.

J.J. Delaney and Tommy Walsh join that list now, while Jackie Tyrrell and Aidan Fogarty move to eight, the same as the legendary Christy Ring (Cork) and John Doyle (Tipperary).

Now Shefflin stands alone. He won all his medals on the field, even though around 20 months were stolen from his career when he suffered two separate crucial ligament injuries, either of which could have ended his playing days.

“What he has achieved is simply remarkable,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, who took over as boss in 1999, the same year as Shefflin joined the county panel.

Now the Bank of Ireland Finance officials is richer by - 10 All-Ireland winners medals; 13 Leinster championships; 6 National Leagues; three Hurler of the Year awards (2002, 2006, 2012); 11 All Star awards; three Railway Cups; four Kilkenny SHC medals and a bagful of other honours.

Shefflin knows what lies ahead in the coming months. Place and time are on his side.

“It is a great place to be in, to be able to say I can go now, or I can wait,” he smiled when the inevitable question was put to him about his future.

“Obviously I will have to think very hard about it. I am 36 next January. I am looking forward to facing that decision.”

The week, immediately after a thrilling All-Ireland final wasn’t the time for such decision making.

“I have to enjoy this achievement,” he insisted, the satisfaction radiating from him. “Winning is a reward for all the hard work and sacrifices we all made, and that includes management, our wives, partners and so on. The achievement of winning has to be celebrated.

“I am looking forward to seeing how the club scene goes. I will sit down at home during the Winter with Deirdre and discuss the future. Then I will decide.

“People asked me what it was like sitting on the bench. Is it different? Yes, it is different. But I am still here. I am still fighting the fight, chasing a Kilkenny jersey. I still love it.

“Imagine if I had left, to be sitting up in the stand saying to myself I could still be down there. I am absolutely thrilled. I am delighted to be still involved. Whatever part I can play I am happy to play it.

He said the likes of Tommy Walsh , Aidan Fogarty, Brian Hogan and others on the bench shared the same view. Whatever part they were asked to play, they would take it on.

“To be still involved is brilliant,” Henry added again. “I couldn’t be unhappy sitting on the bench. I have been here in the warm-up area in Croke Park many a time talking about the panel of players, the sub we have driving us on. I am one now, driving on the rest of the lads.

“Look where we all ended up together...champions. How could I be anything but happy with that outcome? It is absolutely brilliant. The 10 is not sinking in yet. It was just about trying win for so long. Now it has happened it is not so easy to simply change and get a whole range of different feelings together, but I do feel good, very good.

“It was so tense nearing the end all you wanted was to hear the final whistle and have the 10th All-Ireland in the bag.”

He said it was hard standing on the line before being put in. His entry was delayed while the man he was replacing, Richie Hogan, went to defend a Tipperary penalty.

“You are mad to get in, but you can’t do that during a vital play,” he explained. “The game was being played at a ferocious pace. Everything was moving so fast. It was great to get on the field. This win was for us, not me or anyone else.

“For me it has all been a near crazy but magnificent journey,” he enthused. “To be still here is unreal. I have had a lot of ups and downs and injuries. We have all been very lucky to have had more ups than downs though. I feel privileges and lucky.”

He insisted Kilkenny have a great panel of players; a great management team; a great County Board to back up everyone. From day one Brian Cody instilled a great spirit in the squad.

“That spirit shone through all this year, as it does every year,” Henry said. “It is an all for one attitude. That is why we have been so successful. We have plenty of talented individuals. Don’t give me talent. Give me good fellows, grounded fellows, with an attitude to serve each other.

“More than anything when I give talks that is one thing I point out, that we have very good people.

“The people of Kilkenny should be very proud of the people, all the people, involved in this dressing-room. All they want to do is play for, or do their best for Kilkenny. When you have a healthy spirit like that you can’t but be successful.”