Shefflin: Talk of succeeding Cody is 'disrespectful'
By John Harrington
No better man than Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy to hop a ball with Henry Shefflin at yesterday’s launch of the 2019 Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
After congratulating Shefflin on his stellar achievement of leading Ballyhale Shamrocks to the All-Ireland Club title in his first season of club management, Sheedy lined up ‘King Henry’ to be the next man to sit on Brian Cody’s throne as Kilkenny manager.
“We were all saying maybe Kilkenny might go when Brian Cody finishes but I think we can stop worrying about that now, the conveyor belt of managers is as strong as their conveyor belt of players,” said Sheedy with a grin in Shefflin’s direction.
That more or less guaranteed what the first question to be posed to Shefflin by the assembled media would be after the launch formalities were over.
Is he the heir apparent to Brian Cody as Kilkenny hurling manager when the great man himself eventually decides to step aside?
“Ah no, look, to be honest I’m very happy where I am, and, I think, I don’t know what way to phrase it, I think it’s a bit silly for me from my perspective to say something like that,” said Shefflin.
“I wanted to go in with Ballyhale to see how it goes and see if I enjoy it and the next question will be do you enjoy it and yes I do enjoy. It was a very enjoyable year with a big learning step so, for me, that’s it. I’ve a young family at home.
“And, look, the greatest manager of all time in Kilkenny hurling I think it’s a bit disrespectful for people to even mention even for my liking so. People probably know the answer but they like to say it a little bit...and that’s where I stand on it.”
Shefflin didn’t rule out the ideal totally though of managing an inter-county team – be it Kilkenny or some other county – at some stage in the future.
But at the moment he wants to feel more sure-footed before he climbs another rung on the management ladder.
“Down the road, it probably will,” said Shefflin when asked if inter-county management would ever appeal to him.
“But I’ve an awful lot to learn. It’s a massive step-up. It’s like going from being a club player to an inter-county player, there’s so much…
“Listening and talking to the lads, the level of detail involved. the commitment levels is just astronomical. That is something you have to take into consideration.
“Everyone is at different stages in their life cycle. You have to understand where you are.”
Brian Cody is now in his 21st season as Kilkenny hurling team manager and Shefflin believes he’s as enthusiastic as ever about the challenge, even if it’s a greater one now he’s faced with than at arguably any other time during his tenure.
“He just loves it so much,” said Shefflin. “It’s his life. He never got side-tracked by the trappings that go with it, the high profile.
“He just loves going in to Nowlan Park. He just loves the challenge, he loves trying to build a team. It’s a different challenge now. He’s never experienced anything like he does at the moment.
“And you say, yeah, you are probably thinking players, but I don’t think it’s players - I think it’s the structure, it’s completely new.
“He has had his club players going out and playing high intensity matches where lads are getting injured last weekend.
“He now has four or five sessions to plan and for a campaign that is going to run off in five or six weeks, but I think he loves that challenge, and that’s why he does it.
“He has plenty of energy about him and he just loves doing what he is doing. I don’t think there is any secret to it. I think he is a very competitive man. He wants to get the best for himself and his players, and that’s what keeps him going.”
Cody’s preparations for the 2019 Championship have been badly hampered by injuries to key players.
Cillian Buckley will probably miss the entire Leinster Championship as he recovers from knee surgery while James Maher and Conor Delaney are out of action for the foreseeable future after both suffering leg-breaks.
Shefflin believes the absence of Buckley is an especially bad blow that has been compounded by the injury to his most likely replacement at centre-back, Delaney.
“Massive loss, massive leader as well,” said Shefflin. “He’s so athletic.
“You know, the game now has evolved that you need that athleticism with the hurling brains beside you so, that’s something that Kilkenny do require as well.
“In that sense he’s a massive loss. Hopefully he will get back. Again it’s the great unknown, nobody knows.
“No, they are not settled at all there at three and six, we talked about it over the years, the spine, we keep talking about it in the Sunday game.
“You talk about Limerick and I think they have that very strong down the middle and I think that’s the challenge for Kilkenny, who is going to play there?
“With Conor Delaney looking like he was going to play one of those positions, being injured, no-one really knows, which is a challenge, but I think it’s a little bit exciting as well because no-one knows what this Kilkenny team is going to come with, or even who is going to be playing.
“I was talking to Richie Reid over the weekend. These type of lads, who probably felt they hadn’t an opportunity, are probably saying, ‘Jesus, do you know what, I could get my chance here.’ It’s good for those lads as well.”
Eoin Murphy has also emerged as an injury doubt for Kilkenny ahead of their Leinster SHC opener against Dublin on May 11.
The two-time All-Star has been one of their most important players in recent years and Shefflin admits his absence would be a big blow for what’s shaping up to be a serious battle with a quickly improving Dublin team.
“Oh Jesus, it would,” said Shefflin. “For us, you think of the goalkeeping, you think of the shot-stopping. But then when you think about it you put your manager’s hat on so you’re preparing a team, you’re preparing puckouts, which have become so important now and if Eoin is injured and he’s not training you can’t implement those if he’s going to come back into the team.
“So it’s all these small things that we don’t understand from the outside in so that will be massive. Obviously, look, his shot-stopping and everything he brings, his point-scoring, so it’s going to be a big one.
“It’ll be interesting to hear how that turns out. I heard he just jarred his knee so I don’t know what the outcome of it is yet.”
The injuries come at a bad time for Kilkenny, but Shefflin was also keen to stress some positives ahead of their Leinster SHC, most notably the form of some of his own club-men.
Rising star Adrian Mullen was crowned the AIB Club Hurler of the Year for his exploits with Ballyhale Shamrocks that culminated with a five-poin haul in the All-Ireland Final.
He’s still just 19, but Shefflin believes he’s already good enough to make an impact this year for Kilkenny.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Again, I talk about athleticism, he has that, serious explosive power, he’s a big chap for his age.
“He went off after the Club All-Ireland, played against Cork in a challenge match and struggled by all accounts so I think he’s going to need to get time.
“Playing around players like TJ and Richie and all these other players at inter-county level will bring him on but I don’t think there’ll be too much expectation, he’s very, very young yet and I think he should be given time to develop and I think he will get that opportunity inside.”
Colin Fennelly also starred for Ballyhale during their All-Ireland winning run and crowned his season with a man of the match performance in the All-Ireland Final that saw him score 2-4 from play.
Over the years he has sometimes struggled for consistency in a Kilkenny jersey, but now it looks like the 29-year-old is in the form of his life.
“I think that’s a big plus,” said Shefflin. “I know there are a lot of negatives going on with injuries and stuff like that but I think Colin’s form is very positive.
“Everyone’s hope in Kilkenny is that he’ll carry that into inter-county. It is a step up so he’s marking club full-backs or he might get isolated on a club corner-back where he can use his power and his pace.
“But I think he’s playing with confidence like. In the two club matches since the All-Ireland, he’s actually been our best player again so he’s performing very, very well.
“He’s so dangerous, he’s so powerful and strong but like in the club game teams probably don’t analyse as much as the inter-county game so he will be analysed but I think if he can hold that form he can be a big player for Kilkenny this year.”