An anniversary of sorts this morning.
This day five years ago Henry Shefflin called it a day with Kilkenny. You may not recall the exact circumstances, though your correspondent certainly does: The Set Theatre in Langton’s Kilkenny, where the Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman made his announcement and duly formalised our expectations.
Looking back now it would be easy to say it was an easier time, or perhaps a more relaxed moment.
The choreography certainly looks different to the eye now that we’re in (near) lockdown: The lack of social distancing, the press of reporters and public to winkle details out of Shefflin.
The necessity of a press call in the first place is another indication of the size of the occasion, which is linked in this writer’s mind, for some reason, with the fact that Shefflin actually began his senior career with Kilkenny in the previous century.
The transformation he was part of was remarkable. Kilkenny lost a second All-Ireland final in a row in that 1999 debut season, but that afternoon in Langton’s capped a career which yielded 10 All-Ireland medals.
Unprecedented and unlikely to be matched unless someone like Brian Fenton goes deep into his 30s.
An anniversary is an obvious staging post for consideration.
How have Kilkenny fared without the green helmet?
They were the reigning All-Ireland champions when the announcement was made, and six months later they reached the All-Ireland final of 2015, beating Galway 1-22 to 1-18 (a more comfortable win, in fairness, than that scoreline suggests).
Twelve months after that, however, Tipperary had nine points to spare over Kilkenny.
The Cats didn’t make the finals of 2017 and 2018, and last year Tipperary beat them 3-25 to 0-20, with the first-half dismissal of Richie Hogan, much lamented on Noreside, surely a contributing factor to the margin of victory.
On the face of it, this isn’t just a respectable showing for a county — three All-Ireland final appearances in five years, one victory — it’s a statistic that many an established ‘hurling county’ would gladly sign up for.
The only way it could be coded as disappointing in any way is in comparison with the run of success Kilkenny enjoyed up to that year, a winning sequence that was bound to come to an end at some point (further inquiries to Mr Michael O’Dywer, Waterville).
The fact that the return to reality coincided so neatly with Shefflin’s retirement has less to do with the poverty of any of his replacements than it has to do with his own remarkable longevity.
Shefflin’s fitness was managed adroitly by Brian Cody and Mick Dempsey to counteract a string of devastating injuries, including the famous cruciate tear of 2010, in order to have him available on the big days.
And for all of the quality Kilkenny had, they needed him on some of those big days, never more than the 2012 draw against Galway — a game the Tribesmen should have won.
Shefflin’s determination was the crucial factor in getting Kilkenny to a replay, where they duly ran out easy winners.
What have the last five years brought for the player himself, though?
The manager’s bib in Ballyhale Shamrocks. His home club had been in one final in the previous three years when he took over (which they’d lost).
He steered them to two Kilkenny titles and added All-Ireland titles both seasons, stepping down in January this year.
All of which means that five years on from his retirement Henry Shefflin is one of the most successful club managers in his own county.
What odds another announcement in Langton’s at some point in the future?