HE WAS like an excited colt waiting for the gate to the field to open so he could gallop across the lush meadow. Henry Shefflin couldn’t wait to get back into hurling action, writes John Knox.
The 32-year-old seven times All-Ireland medal winner was all deliberate moves and shapes before the match and during the interval when he worked up a good sweat on the pitch in Hugginstown on Saturday.
Then in the 32nd minute it happened. He was reintroduced to the game he loves.
Eight months of recovery work following surgery to repair the severed cruciate ligament in his right knee – the other one was operated on a few years ago – was brought to a close. Shefflin celebrated by shooting two points, one from a free.
He was keen
He looked good – fit, svelte, keen, sharp, anything but anxious or nervous. Whereas one remembered him looking a bit nervous the day in Callan he returned after the previous cruciate repair job, this time he looked much more relaxed, more sure of himself. Boy, was he keen.
“It is nice to get that first piece of action out of the way. I just want to try and get back to normal now,” was his only verbal contribution to the story that has gripped the imagination of the hurling public throughout the land.
Someone very close to Shefflin suggested he has been surprised to the point of annoyance that his impending return generated so much copy and so many headlines. He didn’t want to add to the fuss.
The crowd of about 600 didn’t hesitate. They afforded him a healthy round of applause the moment he stepped on to the pitch.
Once Shefflin was named among the subs you got the impression something was afoot. Then he worked with such zeal in the pre-match puck about and during the interval, getting the touch right, doing everything at speed, that it became apparent he was ready to go.
“The decision to play was made by Henry himself,” explained Shamrocks manager, Michael Fennelly. “Psychologically it was good to get that first game out of the way. He has worked hard, very, very hard. He is back now. For someone who was out for so long, his touch was amazing.”
As the intense action unfold on the field during the first half, Shefflin busied himself belting the sliotar, right and left, against the concrete wall at the Knocktopher end of the grounds. His touch was near perfect every time the ball came back off the wall.
His jersey....No. 30
Then at half-time he went through the legs over the head stretches for the hamstring muscles. Moments later he walked over to the sideline area, took off the green Shamrocks training top to reveal his jersey......No. 30.
The training top was put back on as the players returned for the second half. A quick word with selector, James McGarry, followed before Shefflin was introduced at left half forward in the 32nd minute.
His plays thereafter were:
37th minute – He contested his first ball in the air when defender, James Walsh drove a free up the wing. Shefflin succeeded in keep the ball moving forward.
41st minute – He got the ball into his hand for the first time and delivered a cross field pass to David Hoyne.
42nd minute – He worked space on the left and 45 metres distance. As the cover closed in he took the ball to hand, caught a glimpse of the goal and put the sliotar over the black spot.
46th minute – Shefflin was fouled just to the left almost on midfield. He pointed the free.
47th minute – He danced between two defenders before delivering an inch perfect pass to T.J. Reid.
49th minute – He controlled the ball with the caman using one hand. He was fouled. It was almost the identical spot to the last free he took. This time he delivered a quick, short ball to Mark Aylward on the left wing.
He finished out the game involved in the final move as Shamrocks tried to save the match. It was a busy return, satisfying too, one would surmise.