New Galway senior hurling manager Henry Shefflin is relishing the “unique opportunity” of teaming up with the westerners for what is his first management gig at inter-county level.
Shefflin’s appointment out west came as a complete shock to the hurling community Wednesday night, his name having not been linked to the Galway post during the seven weeks it lay vacant following Shane O’Neill’s departure at the beginning of September.
Davy Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was someone who had been heavily linked with the role in recent days and while the former Clare and Wexford manager did speak with Galway officials, the county's selection committee plumped for Shefflin.
The Kilkenny legend, in a statement released by Galway GAA, said “managing the Galway senior hurlers presents a unique opportunity and we relish the exciting challenge ahead as we begin this journey.
“We look forward to working with the players, the county board, and the wider Galway GAA community over the coming years."
Travelling from Kilkenny to Galway along with the 10-time All-Ireland SHC winner will be Richie O’Neill who will serve as coach in Shefflin’s backroom team. O’Neill worked with the 11-time All-Star during the latter’s spell as Ballyhale Shamrocks manager and is also part of his Thomastown backroom team at present.
It has not been disclosed the length of Shefflin’s tenure with Galway or what Galway-based selectors he will have on board with him next year.
Having quickly transitioned from player to manager when taking charge of his native Ballyhale Shamrocks in late 2017, Shefflin’s first two seasons in a managerial role simply could not have gone better as he led the club to back-to-back Kilkenny, Leinster, and All-Ireland club titles. Indeed, Shefflin is the third successive All-Ireland club winning manager - who has not previously managed at senior inter-county level - that Galway have turned to to lead their flagship team, following in the footsteps of Micheál Donoghue (Clarinbridge, 2011), and Shane O’Neill (Na Piarsaigh, 2016).
After stepping down as Ballyhale boss, Shefflin went to Thomastown, who he is still with and who will contest the semi-final of the Kilkenny IHC the weekend after next against Glenmore.
The surprise announcement has paved the way for a sideline collision during the 2022 season of 42-year-old Shefflin and the man he hurled under for 16 seasons with Kilkenny - Brian Cody.
The Galway job will have its challenges for the first-time senior inter-county manager, not least rebuilding confidence within the panel after a disastrous 2021 championship that delivered not a single win. It also remains to be seen if Shefflin will approach Joe Canning to ask him to reconsider his retirement from the inter-county game, the 33-year-old having called time on his 14 seasons in maroon back in July.
Speaking to the media in March of this year, Shefflin admitted that “at this moment in time” he was not interested in taking up a managerial position at inter-county level. His head has very clearly been turned by the chance to work with a bunch of Galway hurlers who, prior to the commencement of the 2021 championship, were widely tipped as the main threat to Limerick’s dominance.
The Galway GAA statement confirming Shefflin’s appointment concluded: “Galway GAA wish to thank everyone that participated in and facilitated the selection process, including the candidates that put themselves forward as well as the interview panel for their diligence, commitment, and professionalism over the past few weeks.
“The appointment of Henry Shefflin to lead our flagship team underpins both our immediate ambitions for Galway hurling, as well as a commitment to building a sustainable development pathway for our young hurlers. This will be followed by the appointment of our U20 and minor management teams, as well as the head of our newly consulted Adult Development Squad for 2022.”