Henry Shefflin: 'Tipp are still the best'
By Cian O'Connell
Henry Shefflin has no doubts that Tipperay remain the standard bearers in the hurling world.
On the eve of what promises to be an interesting Championship summer the former Kilkenny star is adamant that Tipperary are the team to beat.
Shefflin watched last Sunday's Allianz Hurling League Semi-Finals and feels that Tipperary are the form outfit in the land. "The first game wasn't a great game," Shefflin reflected.
"Limerick didn't really show up. Galway were impressive, I think they have the forwards to win an All-Ireland, there's no doubt about that. The thing now is to get their defence really tight, seem to be making grounds on that."
"I'm impressed, especially when Limerick were coming back on them, they responded in the right way so obviously the goal turned the tide, but they performed very well," Shefflin commented at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
"In the other match, I thought Wexford were very good, continued the impressive display after the Kilkenny match for 60 minutes.
"It just showed the class of Tipperary then being able to blitz them like that in the end. It probably enforced in our minds three of the teams, probably Limerick have gone back a little bit in people's estimation after the match.
"Tipp are still the best and Galway are not going to be too far away and Wexford are definitely making ground this spring."
Is Shefflin surprised that Tipperary have been so efficient this spring following last year's All Ireland success?
"I'm not really surprised because their main focus since the beginning of the League was that they wanted to go and win it so in that sense, I'm not really," Shefflin responded.
"They have a very strong panel as well. I'm surprised by the quality of the teams that Michael is putting out every match.
"There's always 10, 12 of the 15 last September winning team are playing every match. I think that just sets the template for what they want to do this year. The level of performance has been very, very impressive. I think they're trying to set down a marker and they are definitely doing that."
The physical durability of the Tipperary panel marries nicely with their skill levels according to Shefflin.
"I think they've matured," Shefflin admits.
"When they won the All-Ireland in 2010, Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath, they were all U21 at that stage. Now they're at the peak of their powers. The main players in that team are very strong.
"Then Ronan Maher, John McGrath, they're 22, 23, so there's a great mixture between them. I think they just have top quality players, skilfully very good and physically in great shape."
Shefflin is hopeful that Michael Fennelly will return to action for Kilkenny too following a severe Achilles tendon injury. “I can see it, in the summer yeah, what date I don’t know," Shefflin remarked about Fennelly's comeback.
“Whether early June is too early, I’m not quite sure yet. It’s amazing those long-term injuries, you have them and for four, five, six months, it can be very slow but then you can make ground very quickly so hopefully that’s what will happen with Michael.
“I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks. The last time I was speaking to him, he was struggling and was taking his time. I think I’ve heard it’s coming on, but it’s going to be a race against time I would imagine.”
The possibility of a Leinster Senior Hurling Championship clash involving Wexford and Kilkenny carries intrigue.
Shefflin feels that Wexford are nicely placed under Davy Fitzgerald to seriously examine the Cats.
"I would of course," Shefflin answers when asked would he give Wexford a chance of taking a significant scalp.
"Especially when the game is actually down in Wexford. I do think Kilkenny will be a lot more ready for the game.
"I think in the League, Kilkenny's attitude would always be let's win the game, but not too match that level of detail and organisation in the lead up to the game, while I would imagine Wexford were very much detailed and organised and you could see that in the man-marking jobs they had done on TJ (Reid) and Richie Hogan.
"I think Brian will bring more, there's probably not much more Davy can do in that sense but I think Brian will bring the organisation, the way they're going to use to cut out the sweeper, everything like that will be planned in Kilkenny.
"Once obviously Wexford come through and I think that Kilkenny will be forewarned for that game. "That's why I expect our lads to do it. But I think it's going to be a massive battle down there.
"I know myself Wexford Park, it's never an easy place, especially now there's confidence in the county. The atmosphere will be even ratcheted up even more."