The ability to keep things low key was a Shefflin gift

John Knox

Reporter:

John Knox

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sport@kilkennypeople.ie

Kilkenny

Henry Shefflin - he enjoyed a run of 17 championship matches unbeaten while manager of Shamrocks Ballyhale Picture: Dylan McIlwaine

By keeping things local and low key, Henry Shefflin, helped guide Ballyhale Shamrocks to some of the finest achievements in the history of the club.

Last week the 10 times All-Ireland medal winner stepped down as manager of Shamrocks after he decided he wanted to devote more time to his family and because of work commitments.

Since Shefflin took over the reins of Shamrocks in 2018, he guided the club through a terrific 17 match unbeaten championship run, picking up two county senior hurling titles in Kilkenny, two in Leinster and two more at All-Ireland level along the way.

“He has a bit of magic,” insisted Michael Fennelly, one of the greatest ever wearers of the colours and team captain during the Shefflin era.

“He had magic on the field and he transferred that on to the sideline.

“As people know, a great player doesn’t automatically make a great manager, but Henry put some collection of trophies together.”

During Shefflin’s two seasons in charge, Shamrocks broke new ground.

They retained the Kilkenny title in 2019. That was a first in a season following an All-Ireland win.

On the weekend before last Shamrocks put national wins back-to-back, which was another first for them.

“He can certainly look back on great times and achievements,” insisted Michael Fennelly, one of Shefflin’s most trusted lieutenants.

Fennelly, a former Hurler of the Year and eight times All-Ireland medal with Kilkenny, credited Shefflin with some really shrewd decision making, like the assembly of a top class backroom team and the way he was able to keep things ordinary and well organised.

A typical example was the way the Shamrocks warm-up was planned before the All-Ireland final against Borris-Ileigh (Tipperary).

They took a familiar trip to the Na Fianna club grounds, where the players feasted afterwards on sandwiches organised by the women in the club. There was no fancy hotel, no distractions.

“We had our tea and sandwiches,” Fennelly said of the run up to a huge game in which Shamrocks were chasing an eight All-Ireland title. “It was all low key, no hotel or anything. Personally I like that.”

The manager knew and understood the audience he was playing to, Fennelly suggested.

“He utilised the club facilities as much as possible,” Fennelly continued. “We didn’t go away on weekends or stay in hotels. He kept everything low key.

“That was him more than anything. I think that is a nice way to help people keep their feet on the ground.”

Fennelly, who won a fifth All-Ireland club title on Sunday week, said it was an interesting move when Shefflin went straight into management after retiring from playing.

He reckoned when the opportunity cropped up, Shefflin couldn’t step away from it although he was going to be managing a lot of players he played with.

The new manager’s first move was to assemble what Fennelly described as “a very strong backroom team” including his brother, Tommy Shefflin as coach; former Kilmacow and Kilkenny goalkeeper, Richie O’Neill, who had a wealth of knowledge on tactics and video analysis, plus Patrick Phelan, a local man rooted in the history of Shamrocks.

Later they were joined by former Young Irelands (Gowran) player, James Fitzgerald, who looked after stats and so on.

Shefflin’s move into management came after Shamrocks suffered a bit of a pasting against James Stephens in the Kilkenny championship semi-final of 2017, losing by 3-16 to 1-12.

The beginning of his reign was testing, and Shamrocks didn’t set the scene alight in the league.

However, come championship time they got their act together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“Henry is very much his own man,” explained Fennelly, the current Offaly senior hurling manager.

“He reminds me to some degree of Brian Cody. He would have his opinion on things and we followed that through. You can’t have things up for debate all the time.

“He was very good like that. He was good to speak to players off the field and to give feedback here and there. He grew into that role.

“He knew what he wanted and how to go about getting it. He knew the direction we needed to go. He is very passionate and a very good speaker. That all helped as well.”

Shefflin had no problem standing back from training and letting others take charge.

“It was easy to understand the message he wanted to get across,” Fennelly revealed.

“There were no needless meetings or five or 10 minute conversations with players. It was ‘Get it done. Move on.’”