There was no record ninth All-Ireland winner’s medal for Henry Shefflin on Sunday – that honour, if it is to come, will have to wait awhile.
But the most-decorated man in GAA history still put in a valiant performance to keep Kilkenny in the game, inspiring those around him, and earning a replay in three weeks’ time, writes Sam Matthews.
By his own standards, Shefflin had a quiet opening 25 minutes operating high on the left. His involvement came from two landed frees and two wayward 65s.
It was when he dropped back into the centre forward position that he brought his influence to bear on the game. The shift was instantaneous – he immediately caught a high ball and picked out Eoin Larkin, who pointed.
Thenceforth, he was as creative as ever around the field, and – ever the leader – through his unerring frees he dragged the Cats back into the game. Some had touted the fixture as a Canning versus Shefflin shootout, and while in reality, defences dominated on the day, it is notable that the duo finished with 12 points apiece.
Should he have gone for goal with that penalty rather than point it?
Brian Cody offered his thoughts on that one.
“I shrugged my shoulders and said ‘do whatever you think yourself to be honest,” he said.
“You can’t inspire Henry Shefflin as to what to do with penalties – he decides that himself. If he had scored it, he’d be a genius. If it had been saved, he’d be a lunatic. He gave us a score and it proved to be a vital score.”
On September 30, destiny awaits. Shefflin will play in his 62nd championship game, a second All-Ireland final in one month. Kilkenny need him as much as ever.
1’: Shefflin, despite his number 10 jersey, adopts the left full forward position. He is marked closely by Galway’s Fergal Moore. Number 15 Taggy Fogarty drops back into the half forward line.
3’: Shefflin pounces on a loose ball but is quickly dispossessed. He and Fergal Moore subsequently share a drink and have a chat.
4’: Shefflin leaps to catch a sideline cut from Paul Murphy – he takes it perfectly and is fouled. Despite loud jeers and whistles from the Galway crowd, he sends the resulting free straight over the bar to put Kilkenny in the lead (0-1, 0-0). First blood.
7’: Hard work in the corner by Colin Fennelly earns Kilkenny their first 65 of the day. Shefflin sends this one wide.
15’: After TJ Reid wins a free close in, Shefflin opts to go for goal, but Fergal Moore manages to deflect it wide. His second 65 of the afternoon goes wide of the mark.
18’: It’s Galway’s talisman that is enjoying the lion’s share of the play now. Shefflin has not enjoyed much direct action, and is forced to adopt the role of spectator as Joe Canning causes havoc at the other end.
20’: A David Herity puck-out sails Shefflin’s way, but the sliothar bounces off his catch. The Galway backs, at this juncture, are getting the better of Kilkenny’s forward men.
27’: Shefflin now moves into the centre, falling back into the half forward line. Eoin Larkin has dropped out onto the left hand side. The difference is noticeable straight away. Shefflin’s deeper, more central role has changed Kilkenny’s impetus.
30’: The Ballyhale man wins the sliothar, turns and fires it to Eoin Larkin, who points expertly. He is much more involved in general play now.
32’: As half time approaches, Shefflin is presented with an opportunity to point from a free in the left corner. He does not disappoint – his second point of the day takes Kilkenny to 0-5. Moments later, Galway’s Iarla Tannian obstructs a free. The 33-year-old veteran quickly dispossesses him, and the free is moved forward. He adds another point.
35’: Half time. The King has definitely arrived into the game. Galway have given away some sloppy frees, and he has punished them. He sprints off the park and down the tunnel.
36’: The game resumes. Shefflin runs out of the dressing room, fired up, encouraging others. He speaks to Richie Power, Taggy Fogarty, Eoin Larkin, and Colin Fennelly. He’s into it right from the go, jumping on a loose ball and passing to Power, who is fouled. Shefflin steps forward to do the honours; it’s his fifth point and Kilkenny now have 0-8.
40’: He has continued in his centre-half forward position that was proving so effective towards the end of the first half. He is currently marked by Galway’s Tony Og Regan, but not too closely. It looks like this could be Kilkenny’s so-called ‘15-minute patch’.
41’: Shefflin outmuscles the dynamic Iarla Tannian once again, leaving him on the ground as he ghosts away. He is up for the fight. He urges the full forward line to push further up. There’s only a goal in it at this stage.
44’: Richie Power earns himself a big pat on the back from his illustrious team mate, having won a vital free in a good position. The Kilkenny number 10 makes no mistake in sending it over the bar, bringing his personal tally to 0-6.
46’: Shefflin and Fergal Moore briefly square up to one another after the former sends the latter to the turf in an all or nothing tackle. Referee Barry Kelly deems it a Galway free. Moments later, Shefflin demonstrates his lesser-vaunted defensive talents, harrying David Burke into giving away possession and committing a foul. The King knocks the free over expertly.
50’: Shefflin soars through the air to catch a lofted pass, firing it low over the bar to level the game. Croke Park erupts in a cacophony of noise, while Shefflin turns and punches the air in celebration.
54’: Shefflin sends over a monster free to put Kilkenny in front for the first time since his opening point.
55’: Niall Burke scores a goal against the run of play. Within a minute, Shefflin has sent over another free from out on the left, soothing black and amber nerves.
60’: A loose ball breaks and Shefflin roars through the centre to scoop it up. He unselfishly offloads to Ballyhale comrade Colin Fennelly, who fires goalward, but James Skehill makes the save and smothers the ball. Shefflin points the free and it’s all level again: 0-16, 2-10.
63’: Richie Hogan is tackled high and a dispute is brewing, but Shefflin is in straight away with some calm words.
65’: Shefflin levels it again, from his own 65 this time. 0-18 to 2-12. His unerring frees are keeping Kilkenny in this.
67’: Galway ‘keeper Skehill takes out Eoin Larkin, earning Kilkenny a penalty. It’s almost possible to hear the dichotomy of views rippling through the Cats supporters – take the point or go for goal? In the end, he does the sensible thing, sending it high and handsome over the bar, and putting Kilkenny ahead.
70’: A good catch by Shefflin, but his point effort falls short. Moments later, he watches Joe Canning level the game again. On the final whistle, he shakes hands with the opposition and is one of the first off the pitch.