We salute the 9th Battalion

THE coronation was completed before a crowd of nearly 83,000 and a television audience of millions around the world, and two Kilkenny men are now the kings of the hurling castle, writes John Knox.

THE coronation was completed before a crowd of nearly 83,000 and a television audience of millions around the world, and two Kilkenny men are now the kings of the hurling castle, writes John Knox.

Henry Shefflin, son of Ballyhale, won a 9th All-Ireland winners medal on the field of play in his 62nd championship appearance. His neighbour from down the road, Noel Hickey from Dunnamaggin, joined the exclusive club too.

Last year Shefflin took charge of the record as the top scorer in the championship. This season he added the title of top scorer from play.

The Galway officials who offered their congratulations in the Kilkenny dressing-room after the game described him as the “greatest hurler of all time”.

“I don’t know about that. That is a big statement,” suggested Henry when I repeated what the visitors had suggested. “I am honoured to have won the 9th, as I am sure Noel is. To have the two of us in Kilkenny - and Noel Skehan too - and the record is a testament to the talent of this team and the teams and men who have gone before.”

It wasn’t about the record

Henry didn’t pretend he wasn’t chasing this day. But it wasn’t about the record. It was about the winning of the match, and what followed on followed on.

“It will take time for the real significance of something like this to sink in, but these days are special,” he admitted. “I have been very lucky.”

And then he remembered the darkest days........two cruciate ligament injuries and a shoulder injury that sidelined him from October last until June of this year. During the past four years he has spent nearly 20 months in rehab, building up parts of his body after major surgery.

“The last injury, the shoulder injury, took a lot out of me,” he admitted, voice almost fading away.

His wife Deirdre, friends and playing colleagues were a tower of strength during those testing times.

“The beginning of this year was very hard, hard on the family at home too,” he admitted. “The training at the time was totally different and I found it hard to get going.”

The darkest months were January, February and March, but even up as far as June he was still haunted by doubts. Would he, wouldn’t he make it back to where he was?

“Things weren’t coming along as well as I had hoped,” he revealed. “They were dark times. Deirdre helped a lot and stayed very positive. After the Leinster final I had a good look at myself and I started to leave things in the past and to look forward.

Pivotal moment

“I had to convince myself not be so bothered about the shoulder and knees and things like that. The shoulder surgery was something I had no experience of before, and I didn’t know how to handle it. After a bit of serious thinking I started to be more positive about the future. That was a pivotal moment for me.”

The rest, as they say is history.

Kilkenny, he insisted, have grown and grown as a team this season. He remembered the great performance against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final

“We played very well in the second half of the drawn final against Galway and we were unlucky we didn’t win that day,” he smiled. “Today we played as well as we have all year.

“Some players thought they were written off a bit. They hadn’t played to the level they expect of themselves in an All-Ireland final. We have always been true to ourselves, to our values. We have lost matches, but we always worked hard. We felt we could have worked harder in the drawn match.

“That was the thing today. We upped our work rate. As well, Brian (Cody) and the management team must take great credit. They said we would play this replay on Kilkenny’s terms. When we got our game going everything worked.”

The future for him on Sunday afternoon was no longer than the upcoming local club championship.

“This is a special day,” he assured. “I am really enjoy this. Please God I will stay injury free over the winter. These days are brilliant. I have had nine of these days, and I know there are not another nine in front of me.

“We will enjoy today and the next few days. I think it will be a shorter winter for everyone in Kilkenny now.”

But would he keep going, continue the inter-county career?

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I am not going to say. I will enjoy the moment and let the future take care of itself.”