O’Connor: Shefflin is simply irreplaceable

Kilkenny can cope with the absence of most individuals and will not be disconcerted by manager, Brian Cody’s enforced non-appearance in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League semi-final.

That is the verdict of Willie O’Connor, who captained the Cats to their first All-Ireland success under Cody in 2000.

But there is one exception to the rule though, according to the Glenmore man, and the likelihood of Henry Shefflin’s run of 62 consecutive championship appearances coming to an end against Offaly on June 9 is a significant source of concern.

Shefflin had an operation last week to remove screws placed in a broken foot and selector, Martin Fogarty conceded there was a major question mark around the Ballyhale legend’s availability for the Leinster championship opener.

Kilkenny may be renowned for the depth of the county’s hurling talent, but, according to O’Connor, Shefflin is irreplaceable.

“Henry has been a real leader for Kilkenny,” said O’Connor. “Go back to the All-Ireland semi-final last year and the first leg of the final when Kilkenny were in trouble. If any team in Ireland had a Henry Shefflin on their team sheet, it looks a lot better with him on it than without him.”

Shefflin has shown his mettle in returning from major knee and shoulder injuries in the previous two seasons and O’Connor maintains rather than hinder him, the lay-offs have probably served to prolong his career.

“It cut him out of the winter hurling for a couple of years and really freshened him back up. When you have a top-class athlete, he’s not going to be top class for nine or 10 months of the year, so you might as well have him for the most important parts of the year.”

Cody is expected to return for the championship after his heart surgery but O’Connor doesn’t see any negative issue with hurling’s most successful boss not prowling the sideline.

“Brian often admits himself, the day of the match, he’s on the sideline watching. He’s like all the people in Kilkenny, depending on the men that are out there. It’s up to them.

“Some of the players have been around nearly as long as Brian is there. It might be a little incentive for some of the players, an issue to go out and win the match to help Brian with his recuperation.”

The league has served its purpose for Kilkenny already, O’Connor asserts, with Eoin Murphy, Lester Ryan, Ger Aylward and Conor Fogarty showing well. Sunday should be another step-up for those players.”

“Kilkenny have conceded a lot of goals and you’d be hoping we’d stop a few of them. In the All-Ireland last year, against Galway, they would have conceded five goals instead of three. It’s a little worrying. I think if Kilkenny can keep the goals down they could win.”

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