Surely the greatest ever

THERE are many defining images from Sunday’s All-Ireland final, but few will resonate more with fellow athletes than that of a 33-year-old man, one minute away from winning his ninth All-Ireland medal in his 62nd championship match, still chasing every ball like it’s his first time wearing black and amber, writes Sam Matthews.

THERE are many defining images from Sunday’s All-Ireland final, but few will resonate more with fellow athletes than that of a 33-year-old man, one minute away from winning his ninth All-Ireland medal in his 62nd championship match, still chasing every ball like it’s his first time wearing black and amber, writes Sam Matthews.

That’s the measure of the Henry Shefflin. Tireless, selfless graft to the bitter end. Sheer hard work a lot of the time – not that he sees it as such.

Set the tone

“He set the tone from early on – around 1999, I think, to be honest,” said Cody of Shefflin.

“He hasn’t just played for Kilkenny. He’s done everything for Kilkenny. He’s lead for Kilkenny, he’s fought for Kilkenny, he’s scrapped for Kilkenny.

“That’s the difference between Henry Shefflin and players who go out just to get on the scoreboard and be the top scorer or whatever.”

Few teams, when conceding two quick goals in succession, can recover like that. It takes a lot of experience, a lot of leaders to pull a side through the psychological battering of that experience.

Shefflin is a natural leader; his encouragement for his team mates must also be invaluable to them on the pitch. But he also covers a huge amount of ground, does the basics better than most – that’s what makes the greats.

“His work rate is immense,” said his manager after the game.

“He came out and led from the front when we were under severe pressure. And today again, there he was, just working, working, working.”

His captain, Eoin Larkin, was similarly full of praise.

“Henry dragged us single-handedly back into the drawn game,” said the James Stephens man.

“So if you want to look at it like that, I suppose we did owe him one.”

And the big question -– will we see him again next year, in pursuit of a tenth medal?

“I would be amazed if we don’t, to be honest,” said Cody.

“I haven’t spoken to Henry about it obviously. A lot of people forget – when they talk about hunger, or talk about how this fella did this or that – to me, it’s very simple: Henry Shefflin is in love with the game of hurling. He just loves playing hurling.”

The Shefflin day

Long may it last.

Henry’s afternoon:

1’: Shefflin, wearing number 15, comes out playing in the centre forward position in which he was so effective the last day.

2’: After a foul on his Michael Fennelly, Shefflin lines up the free, but it sails wide.

6’: Shefflin sends over his first free of the day, cancelling out Joe Canning’s effort just moments before. Honours even.

9’: The Ballyhale man is tackled aggressively from behind by Galway’s Andy Smith. The referee awards a free, and Henry puts Kikenny ahead.

13’: Shefflin pounces on a loose ball and manages to get a quickfire shot away before he is swarmed by maroon shirts. His first point from play (0-3, 0-1).

19’: Encourage the youth! Henry has a huge pat on the back for young apprentice Walter Walsh, after the bullocking 21-year-old clears Johnny Coen out over the sideline.

22’:The King fires over another free following a foul close in.

23’: A good hand pass from the buoyant number 15 puts Richie Hogan into space, from where he sends the sliothar over the bar.

24’: Tommy Walsh flies to ground to win a breaking ball; he manages to find Shefflin who makes no mistake in firing it over.

30’: As half time approaches, Henry moves up into the left corner forward role for a few minutes.

36’: After the break, Shefflin reverts to his centre forward place. He has covered serious ground already.

39’: Henry lines up a 65 after hard work in the corner by Wally Walsh and Mick Fennelly. He splits the posts (1-13, 2-5).

Words exchanged

40’: Shefflin and Iarla Tannian exchange some words and some shoves.

42’: Evryone’s getting in on it now. Andy Smith is booked after his confrontation with Shefflin.

45’: Henry is whistled by the ref being adjudged to have travelled.

47’: TJ Reid fires a sideline ball to Shefflin, who picks it up, spins, and beats two Galway players before offloading to Cillian Buckley, who fires it over. Vital point at a vital time.

53’: TJ is tripped as he marauds towards the Galway goal. A pat on the head from Henry and a point on the scoreboard from his free (1-18, 2-7).

58’: Another free, and another point from Henry’s hurl after he is tripped. Maroon jerseys have already begun to haemorrage from the stadium’s exits.

He runs to Hill 16

67’: Shefflin sends over a 65 as the afternoon winds down.

69’: One minute to go from winning his ninth All-Ireland medal in his 62nd championship match, the veteran is still fighting for every puck of a ball.

71’: As the whistle goes, Henry runs toward the Hill celebrating, stopping to offer some words of commiseration to the disconsolate Galway keeper.