Henry Shefflin is over a year removed from the inner sanctum of the Kilkenny dressing room, but he knows how his erstwhile peers and manager will have dealt with those verbal grenades tossed at them by Ger Loughnane.
‘Functional’ was the former Clare manager’s opinion on this current crop of Cats, one he insisted should not be focusing in on a third All-Ireland title in a row.
Brian Cody laughed it off earlier this month, while Colin Fennelly labelled the comments crazy, disappointing and weird.
“It filters its way down in Langton’s after training,” said Shefflin at a Centra launch in Dublin. “That’s basically it. I know Brian will not be up there talking about it, or anything like that. But in the dressing room lads are sitting around the table having the chat and talking about what Loughnane said.
“The lads don’t use it for motivation, but I know myself how it is. You are driving along in the car and listening to the radio, or you are reading the paper, and it gives you a bit of spurt to say ‘we’ll show them now’.
“That’s what great players use. It’s not something they’ll need, but it is in the background.”
There is little doubt but this Kilkenny team has yet to emerge from the shadow of some illustrious recent predecessors. Shefflin himself landed on the 26-point defeat of Waterford in the 2008 All-Ireland final as the supreme example of the county side at its best.
That came on the back of a two-year spell in which opponents were regularly beaten by awesome displays and convincing scorelines and yet the 2015 vintage never looked ruffled all summer despite being festooned by doubters at every turn.
“This year we have to give the team a chance,” said Shefflin, who retired from the inter-county game 14 months ago. “There was serious change in the last couple of years with JJ (Delaney) gone and now Richie Power and Ger Aylward gone.
“In that sense, we have to give them a chance. Last year was the first really, really, with all of us gone and in the background. If they can develop again this year, then it could be a different conversation the end of the year.”
For now, Kilkenny remain on the periphery, one of the few nuggets of news to emerge from the county being that of Eoin Larkin’s continued return to normality — he led James Stephens to victory over Rower Inistioge at the weekend — after his UN tour of duty in Syria.
“He is massive,” said Shefflin. “Brian has great faith in him. There’s a lot of talk about systems, but Eoin brings savage workrate to it. He is playing corner-forward, but he travels out and puts a lot of pressure on a defence so he is a big, big player.
“Even moreso this year with Richie Power not there and Ger Aylward with the cruciate. Having a specialised corner-forward for Kilkenny is very important. He’s a massive player and leader. We all saw him in the All-Ireland final with that workrate last year. That’s what he brings to the game. He is a great man travelling with the ball as well. He was away overseas, but with the warm weather over there he had plenty of time to train, so I would say he is probably in good condition and looking forward to the championship.”
Most eyes will fall on Semple Stadium this Sunday where Tipperary and Cork continue their long-standing rivalry, but the meeting of Dublin and Wexford in Croke Park will be of more immediate interest to Shefflin, given the victors face Kilkenny in a provincial semi-final.
Both counties have failed to instil any degree of consistency into their seasons in recent years and that inability was in evidence again during the recent league. A win without a performance will do neither any good, according to Shefflin. “I know the last day (Wexford) got a big backlash against Waterford. They nearly pipped them in the league quarter-final, but there is pressure on. We expected a lot from them last year and they just didn’t deliver. So there is pressure. There is pressure on Dublin also.
“It’s a peculiar one. No-one really knows what way it’s going to go.”
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