LET’S deal with Henry’s situation first. Even back in 2000, when all this began for both Brian Cody and Kilkenny and when DJ was still the main man up front, a young Henry Shefflin was starting to emerge as a real force on the big stage.
He scored Kilkenny’s second point in that deadly first-half blitz of Offaly and followed it up with the game’s second goal for an unassailable 2-2 to 0-1 lead after less than 10 minutes.
By game’s end he would have 2-3, and thus did he set a trend he would follow in almost every one of the subsequent seven finals in which he appeared — to the fore very early, whether it was as set-up man or as finisher, as Kilkenny established a beachhead.
Which isn’t to say that he disappears as the game goes on — in 2003, against Cork, a game there to be won entering the final minutes, it was the red-headed one from Ballyhale with a point from play, a decisive pass for the Martin Comerford goal, then the final point — again from play — as Kilkenny ran out three-point winners (1-14 to 1-11).
All-Ireland final day is Henry’s day. Fitness-wise, no-one can be sure if he will last 70 minutes but he has proven over the last week that he wants to go and — more critically — that he’s good to go. Start him, let him do what he does, or let him try at any rate (a certain Conor O’Mahony will have a say in that), get as much as you can from him for as long as you can. That would be my thinking, and in this matter at least I believe Brian Cody will be thinking along the same lines. It has nothing to do with sentiment, just cold, hard, logic.
On John Tennyson, it becomes a little more cloudy.
Even if the modern game, and the modern Kilkenny game especially, entails a blanket 15-man defensive effort when the opposition is in possession, the centre-back is still the pivotal role.
True, in Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney in the half backs and John Dalton and Jackie Tyrell behind them, Kilkenny have outstanding defenders on the flanks, but the two pillars of any defence are the centre and the full-back, in that order. Here, you don’t take any unnecessary risk. Kilkenny are exceptionally well served in Noel Hickey on the edge of the square, but with Brian Hogan definitely out with a broken finger, the spotlight now falls on Tennyson.
While John returned on the same evening as Henry, from the same kind of injury (cruciate), he was not moving as confidently. This has changed, apparently, and in what could have been seen as a final trial match last Saturday (no full contact this week in Nowlan Park), he was outstanding. That’s very positive, but we don’t know if there was any adverse reaction from that workout. Unless I was absolutely certain that he was going to last for a good part of the game — at least one half — I wouldn’t go with him. This is a mobile and potent Tipperary attack which will be probing for any sign of weakness — if they find it down the middle, then the Cats are in huge trouble. Cody has the experienced James Ryall, who stepped in so well in the All-Ireland semi-final, and the talented but inexperienced Paddy Hogan, as options, in that order.
What will Brian do? I think he’ll go with John Tennyson from the start.
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