— — — — — — — — — —
HIS modesty is the first thing I’d like to talk about. For all that he has achieved he has never gotten carried away, still has his feet very firmly on the ground. It was in 2000, when he was still very young (21), that he started to come into himself. Losing the All-Ireland final against Cork in 1999 really hurt him, he went through the pain of that and it toughened him up. He started to build on that in 2000 and he’s been building ever since. He cherishes the club dearly and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him playing a bad game with Ballyhale Shamrocks. Even when he was out with his injuries he was still on the sideline with them, and very vocal, still very involved.
HE’S right up there among the greats, but I’ve always said, and I’ll say it till the day I die, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better hurler than DJ Carey. That’s only my personal opinion, others will differ. The big difference between them was that DJ could beat you in five minutes. Henry is more a consistent hurler, consistently brilliant yes, doing things his own way, but he didn’t have that spark DJ had, that burst of acceleration. We’re blessed in Kilkenny though that we can talk about the two of them, and that their time overlapped.
A BRILLIANT team player, that’s my take on him. Everyone sees the goals, the points, but his workrate and team work sets him apart. Even in training he’s always the one pushing it out, his attitude is always spot-on, he’s not afraid to put in the hard shift. He’s so consistent, very rarely has an off-day. In the 2007 game against Galway I don’t think he scored from play but he had a brilliant game, the blocking, tackling and hooking he did that day was unreal, set the tone for everyone else. As a midfielder you love to see your centre forward taking the ball out of the sky, turning and scoring and that was one of his trademarks. He was kind of an auxiliary midfielder really. The centre-back hates that, that you don’t know if they should follow him then or not.
OF the fellas I played with he’d have to be up there at the top, no question, but there are plenty of lads up there too, the likes of DJ. Henry’s influence on Kilkenny over the last decade, what he’s achieved, what he brings to the set-up — phenomenal.
I WOULD have known him from the pub they had in Ballyhale at the time, the young cheeky chappie behind the bar pulling the occasional pint. He was quiet enough when he came into us first, in Nowlan Park, a big raw chap. We played Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn in the league in 1999, I think it was Cody’s first day but even then you could see this kid had talent. He hadn’t set the world alight at underage and everyone knows that, but fellas mature at different ages. It can even happen after that, a fella can be transformed in a year — St Kieran’s is a great help for that. Henry took over from DJ even before DJ had finished up, and DJ had been the leader of the pack for the decade before that. When Kilkenny won the league final in 2002 minus four or five players, including DJ, Henry was starting to pull the strings. I came back for the championship in 2002, Kilkenny playing Offaly in Thurles in the Leinster championship, and just looking from the outside in you could really see more of what he was doing, how he was orchestrating everything. When he came in first he had this little pudgy face, the puppy fat, but by God there’s a difference now, he’s really after looking after himself for the last 13 years. I suppose a lot of credit has to go to Deirdre as well, his wife, she’s obviously looking after him very well!
AS a Gowran man I’d have to say DJ Carey is the best I’ve ever seen or hurled with, but they are two very different players. Carey had that bit of magic, he’d have the crowd off their feet, but for workrate over the hour, for the way he brought all his teammates into the game, Shefflin was tops. He’s as much a complete hurler as you’re going to get. It was a real honour to play in the same line as both of them.
— — — — — — — — — —
SEÁN McMAHON (Clare 1994-2006)
HE was a very hard man to mark, good in every aspect of his game. He had pace, good in the air, and he could lose you very quickly. In fact in that respect he was the kind of forward I always hated to mark – you look one way for a split second, look back and he’s gone the other way. He has all the skills and can win the ball any way it comes to him. He can score goals when needed, he’s a brilliant freetaker and his workrate is an example to every player, at every level. He’s strong, but he’s not the kind of player who depends on his strength, who uses the body the same way as a Declan Ryan or a Joe Rabbitte, so you didn’t see loads of ball being horsed down on him. But he could still win his own ball in the air, or contest strongly and look for the breaks. I’ve noticed in the last couple of All-Ireland finals the pressure put on the backs, it’s a savage achievement now to get in a clean clearance off him. One of the great things about Henry is the way he’s adapting his game to suit those needs – he’s still evolving, to suit an evolving game.
FOR me he’s the best player who has played the game. He’s a total team player, he’s not just one of those forwards who has to have the ball handed to him on a plate so he can get his name on the scoresheet, he’s constantly working. His attitude is everything, that’s why he’s so good.
YOU could ask almost any defender today and I’d say 90% of them would say Henry Shefflin is their most difficult opponent. His movement, his calmness out on the field – no-one can move around a hurling field the way he can. He directs everything out there. He ghosts, the kind of fella you look over your shoulder and he’s there, you follow the ball for five seconds and he could be 40 yards away in acres of space. He’s as strong as what’s out there – you wouldn’t think that of him. He’s a very physical player, yet you don’t see him picking up too many yellow cards. Henry has always delivered for Kilkenny so you know they’re going to score – you just have to outscore them, cope with their attack and try and get a big score on the board. There’s no weak point to his game that I can see, he’s the ultimate nightmare for any defender.
I HAVEN’T seen a better all-round player, a player with a better mentality, yet he’s a very humble fella off the field. He has to be right up there with anyone who has played the game, considering his achievements. The only thing that stopped him winning a ninth All Star in-a-row last year was his cruciate injury.
WHEN we were in college in WIT together he was the main man. If we got ten frees, that was ten points. He had serious potential but really took off under Brian Cody, I think he was a major influence on him. He looked after himself better, the weight came off; he enjoyed the craic with us all in college, but when he left it was down to business.
His physique changed, he became the complete athlete. We even remarked on how gaunt he became, his face especially. He’s 32 now and going as strong as ever. He’s the kind of player that could play on for another four or five years if he wants. I played on him in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2002, my first game at centre back. He was a ghost — beside you one minute, then inside at corner forward, full forward, out on the wing. Larry Corbett is the same but not too many players have it. You have to try and run with him, be very aware of where he is. And he’s pacy. I’ve heard fellas saying over the years that he’s slow – when I was playing, Henry was as fast as there was out there. And he has an aggressive side to his game. People think he’s quiet on the field – he’s not. Henry is a real presence on the field.
HE’S the greatest I’ve seen, so consistent – you could count on one hand the number of bad games he’s had. In fact I can’t remember one. When the need is greatest, he produces — fingers crossed he doesn’t do it again this Sunday!
— — — — — — — — — — —
I’VE been watching Henry since he was a youngster trying to make underage teams in Kilkenny, and he’s an example to every young player. He has worked and worked to reach the top level, and even though most of us would now believe that he’s there now, he doesn’t think so, he’s still working on all aspects of his game. He has developed his skill level enormously – I’d say there’s no skill that he hasn’t perfected, though he wouldn’t say that. He practiced long and hard on his frees so that now he’s fantastic on placed balls, from any angle and distance. In the beginning he was probably still playing under the shadow of DJ, the early 2000s — DJ was the man, but Henry was making a huge contribution even then as a linkman. As soon as DJ retired he took over that mantle. As a hurling man and as a Kilkenny man I’m hugely proud of him, in every aspect of his game and lifestyle.
I DON’T like comparisons like that. You can never say someone is better than Christy Ring or Jimmy Doyle, or anyone from another era, I think that’s unfair. What we can say, he’s definitely one of the greatest.
I WOULDN’T be guided by the obvious. I’d be very much old-school, club orientated. If you’re good enough and lucky enough to be picked for your county that’s well and good, but you must produce the goods first and always for your club, and Henry has done that with Ballyhale. All the honours he’s won, his worth to the GAA as an ambassador of hurling, to me now he’s a giant of an individual. His consistency is fantastic, he stayed at it even after his serious injuries. He’s after getting a lot cuter in his hurling in the last few years. He was always a great reader of the game, but he’s become exceptional now on that score. Go back to Ian Rush with Liverpool; he set unbelievable scoring records in Anfield, but his work ethic was what got him there, often playing as a lone striker but working his socks off, winning the hard ball. Henry Shefflin is the same.
I’D always have great admiration for the three Brians, Whelehan, Lohan and Corcoran, but Shefflin’s name would be in there now too. I came in when English, Fox, Joe Cooney, Tony Keady, they were all the talk, but he’s definitely now up there with the best forwards I’ve ever seen.
HE’S Mr Dependable; you could never say he’s had an off-day, especially not on the big occasion, which is the true sign of greatness. He has a good all-round balance to his game. He never seems to miss a free when the pressure is on. In his first five or six seasons he improved year-on-year, but you get to the stage where you can’t really improve that much anymore, you reach your peak. In the 2002 Leinster championship, I saw him up close. I was a sub that day and he was floating around, he scored 11 points. Every time he got the ball he was in position to score. He picks up ball breaking out from the inside line and midfield, always seems to be in the right place, and he’s only jogging to get there.
FROM what I’ve seen he’s definitely in the very top, can’t be beaten. Highest championship scorer of all time, most consistent of all time, huge scoring rate. In my lifetime, I haven’t seen a better player.