Shefflin hails psychological boost for Kilkenny hurlers
By John Harrington
Henry Shefflin believes that the Kilkenny hurlers will get a big psychological boost from the manner of their Allianz Hurling League victory over Wexford last weekend.
The Cats won by 10 points, and for arguably the first time ever since Davy Fitzgerald took charge of Wexford looked comfortable finding a way through their sweeper defence.
Both teams will play one another in the Leinster Championship semi-final this year if Wexford first beat Laois in the quarter-final, and Shefflin believes the nature of last Sunday’s victory will give the Kilkenny players a lot of confidence going into another game against the Slaneysiders.
“I think it psychologically was (a boost), that they won well, that it wasn't a scrappy game," says Shefflin. "I think Kilkenny had a great variety in their play, they seemed to have figured out Wexford's sweeper system and the way they play through the lines for the first time where they really cracked it.
“All these psychological doubts can creep in. The meltdowns against Dublin last year and against Waterford in the semi-final are very much in the rear-view mirror there so I think that was important. To get the score they did and play the way they did, it's a great boost for them. They can go into the next game against Clare very confident.
“I think that self-doubt that might have been there previously against Wexford teams, obviously after last Sunday's performance won't be there as much leading into a Leinster semi-final if that's the way it pans out.
“Some of the concern last year was our second-half and not finishing out games, so that was positive as well. I think the couple of new players coming in are getting a good opportunity, Darragh Corcoran being one of them.
“Richie Reid had one of his best games for Kilkenny in midfield and I think that's an area that Brian is looking to cement someone for there. I think Adrian Mullen coming back, he didn't score much last weekend, but his work-rate and overall attitude (was good).
“That's the great thing about the League. You compare Adrian Mullen's performance the first day out against Dublin where he would have really struggled and was taken off at half-time and now fast-forward four weeks later and he's really getting involved in it.
“That's something I knew would happen with him coming back from the injury, and now he's very strong.
“Someone like James Bergin as well coming on, I think things are looking fairly positive for Kilkenny. I think there's an air of positivity around the place after that performance from Kilkenny.”
Shefflin puts Kilkenny near the head of the chasing pack, but he still thinks Limerick are out in front as All-Ireland favourites despite their relatively patchy form so far in the Allianz Hurling League.
“I think so, because you can't go on a couple of games in the League,” he says. “We never did. They are rotating and when they bring in big players like Gearoid Hegarty the impact they're having is massive.
“So, when they put them all together and put that jigsaw back together, I think they will be very, very strong.
“I think more than any other team they have taken the League on the pretence that they are totally focused on peaking for the championship and they're building towards that.
“I think Galway are next after Limerick, but I think Kilkenny are next, they're very much there. Obviously the form of TJ (Reid) is the major thing.
“The changes they've made to their backroom, there's a bit of freshness to their play last Sunday. I think they won't be too far away. If players like Billy Ryan, Adrian Mullen, and Eoin Cody, these players, develop, they'll be close.
“You saw last weekend Kilkenny are well able to mix the variety of their play and they can score goals, so because of that I think they're close. You think about it, Kilkenny could easily have been in an All-Ireland Final last year so they're not far away at all.
“We're hoping that anyway. I think last week's performance will give them a lot of confidence playing against a system like they would have struggled against previously.”