The Cats have two All-Irelands in a row and the momentum is building nicely. And, this could well be the team to win the historic five-in-a-row, according to Henry Shefflin.
“I certainly hope they will anyway, they’re on a good track at the moment,” he said. “It’s a very difficult thing to do, it’s not history for no reason. But records are made to be broken, so maybe someday it will happen.”
The highest scorer in Championship history, and arguably the most talented athlete in the history of the GAA, Shefflin was speaking last night at the launch of Henry Shefflin: The Autobiography.
The event saw well over 1,000 people crowd in to The Hub at Cillin Hill, Co Kilkenny, to support the hurler-turned-author, including manager Brian Cody, a veritable hoard of past and present Kilkenny hurlers, and quite a few past rivals.
But any former teammates anxiously leafing through the newly published tome can breathe a sigh of relief — apart from recounting a few private training anecdotes and salacious dressing-room titbits, Shefflin, who announced his retirement earlier this year, doesn’t seem to have revealed any state secrets.
The book details the his rise from school to club to county hurling, though it is more than a blow-by-blow account of notable Kilkenny clashes.
While Shefflin does indeed focus on some landmark games such as 2004’s All-Ireland final in which Cork “blew them away”, their eventual redemption against Cork two years later, and the crushing disappointment when Tipperary put a halt to Kilkenny’s 2010 five-in-a-row dream, the Ballyhale man goes one step further and delves into a deeply personal account of his own struggles during his years as a “main man”.
Throughout the book, the 10-time All-Ireland winner lays bare his physical and psychological struggles in dealing with seemingly constant injury — various stress injuries, two cruciates, and a bout of pneumonia to name a few.
In a humble and occasionally self-deprecating manner, Shefflin details how time and time again he had to fight his way back from these severe and potentially career-ending injuries, largely due to sheer force of will and a dogged determination to push his body to the absolute limit.
Shefflin talks not only of the extreme highs felt by the Kilkenny team over the last few years, but also the intense lows. He recounts the collective feeling of devastation when his teammate James McGarry’s wife Vanessa died in a road accident in 2007, and explains how happy he was to be able to invite their son Darragh to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup with him as All-Ireland winners later that year.
While Shefflin has many kind words to say about former teammates and opponents alike, it just wouldn’t be a GAA autobiography if the author didn’t use the pages to settle at least a few old scores.
For Shefflin, that means having the final say on clashes with both Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack as well as Clare’s Gerry Quinn.
While Shefflin hits back at Cusack for his comments about the Kilkenny team being ‘Stepford Wives’ who only do what they’re told with no independent thoughts of their own, his beef with Quinn stems from a more physical injury.
In one of the most controversial clashes in Championship hurling, Shefflin was the unwilling recipient of a butt to the eye during the 2004 quarter-final replay between Kilkenny and Clare. It nearly resulted in Shefflin losing an eye in what he calls a “cheap shot”. Now, Shefflin maintains Quinn was out to hit him that day, something the Clareman has denied.
In a phone call after the incident, Shefflin reports Quinn apologised for the injury and told Shefflin he had been worried about him, yet followed this up with a flippant comment about having “mighty craic on the beer” the day before. Shefflin says he took slight to this, and said Quinn must not have been too worried about him if he’d been having such “mighty craic”.
Brian Cody remains a constant presence in Shefflin’s story. “People probably imagine he’s full of profound wisdoms. But Brian’s greatness is a simple matter: He understands hurling better than any man I know,” writes Shefflin.
“More than anyone, Brian Cody made me the hurler I am.”
Cody himself, obviously felt the same. “What struck me most about Henry was that he got the absolute most out of himself that he could have. It was tremendous to watch,” said the manager. “I’ve been absolutely privileged to deal with him.”
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