Shefflin enjoying western adventure
By Cian O’Connell
On the long and winding road from Kilkenny to Galway, Henry Shefflin and Richie O’Neill try to plan and plot.
Last October when Shefflin was installed as Galway manager hope returned to maroon hearts. Shefflin is well and truly versed in dealing with expectation, embracing challenges, and clearing awkward hurdles.
In the intervening months, though, Shefflin has relished being involved at senior inter-county level. Opportunities were afforded to emerging young players, while others have made a significant impact returning to the Galway fold.
“At the beginning of the year, there was definitely a sense of transition,” Shefflin acknowledges on a blue sky afternoon in Loughrea.
“I don’t think you can say that now because our stamp is on it. And even myself and Richie coming from Kilkenny up, we’ve become a lot more comfortable with our surroundings, the people, our backroom team and the players themselves.
“I suppose it was very difficult for Shane [O’Neill] and the previous management team in Covid times trying to come from the outside in. That’s definitely helped that those restrictions have been lifted and it’s given us an opportunity.”
A busy schedule means that Shefflin is always assessing and evaluating. “We’ve had a lot of games, the round robin has been great because we have had ups and downs and learnings,” he adds.
“I think, myself, that I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the players and that’s growing the whole time. A victory like the Cork one does bring on that connection again which I think is very important. I think you come up and you try to just get the best from yourself, but you also try to get the best from the players.
“That’s what you do, you do it in the fairest way possible, and you give everyone as good an opportunity as you can and that’s what we’ve strived to do.
“Some players have come in and out, but I think, overall, the group and the way they apply themselves and the effort they put in, I would have massive respect for everything that they’re doing.”
Joy can be find in the journey too. Maximising potential and delivering when it counts is the mission Shefflin still wants to accomplish.
“I think whatever sport you’re involved in it just brings out the best in people,” he says. “For me, myself and Deirdre and the family at home, we love it, as anyone that’s involved in the inter-county game does as does anyone that’s involved in the club game.
“That’s why [we do it], you get the enjoyment. Was it tense and anxious on the line last Saturday? Yes, it absolutely was. But that feeling of euphoria when you win a big game like that, that’s what sport is supposed to be about.
“It’s the highs and lows and the difference on how you feel on the Sunday morning after the Leinster final like compared to a tight game like that. It’s a massive commitment and everything like that, but what other way would you want it? You just really enjoy the whole aspect of being involved in something like this.”
Having gleaned silverware at Kilkenny, provincial, and national level with Ballyhale Shamrocks what are the chief differences operating in the inter-county arena.
“I was fortunate with Ballyhale, in that we went long into both seasons,” Shefflin says. “It brought the experience of getting to Croke Park and managing the logistics of all of that. Once the team came out of Kilkenny, we’d be doing video analysis and things you wouldn’t need to do in a county championship, because everyone probably knows the players. So that experience really helped.”
The Covid pandemic ensured people had to adapt to changed circumstances. Frequently Shefflin and O’Neill leave Kilkenny early to work in Galway before training.
“In fairness, my employers, Bank of Ireland, and Richie’s employers, Zurich, have been very good to both of us,” he adds. “Obviously, Covid has brought the virtual world of working from home, which has been good to us as well.
“So, whether I work from a Bank of Ireland branch or in the office we have here in the Lough Rea Hotel, we travel early in the morning, we get in to do a day’s work. So, that’s good because the day is long; you’ve travel and training and possibly going home again.
“So, if we can be here and do a day’s work from here, it’s much easier to be fresh for training and really enjoy it. I’d have to say as well that the backroom team here [in Galway] are excellent. People probably know Tex and Adrian Sylver, they look after the logistics, and everything is excellent. Eoin, our chef, has looked after us so well. I said at the beginning, we were made so welcome when we came up here.
“That’s been the case from the start, and I think it shows the love people have for Galway hurling, that they want to see the team doing well. It has made the transition so much easier for myself and Richie, and it has been so enjoyable for us. We have a good balance to our approach, and as I said, our employers have been very good to us too.”
Shefflin is still finding ways to survive and subsequently thrive.