John Fogarty considers the tangible reasons both for and against Shefflin remaining on for a 17th season with the Cats.
So it will be another few days at least until Henry Shefflin makes a call on his Kilkenny future.
In the vacuum of silence, it’s been the 36-year-old’s actions supporters have been studying. Not going on the team holiday to Miami in January (something he’s done before).
Not bringing his children onto the field at the end of his latest Croke Park triumph on Tuesday. An autobiography pencilled in for later this year. Just how can those decisions be deciphered?
1. More in the tank
Shefflin would certainly be an exception were he to step away on the back of an All-Ireland club title. Several players in the autumn of their careers have chosen to extend their county careers on the basis of having kept their fitness and sharpness levels high because of their club runs.
There will be some who say he’s lost that yard or two of pace. On Tuesday, he made a couple of customary bursts that showed he can still break tackles with pace. Rather than surrendering anything, he’s been conserving it.
2. Another record to break
Henry Shefflin currently has 71 championship appearances to his name, just two shy of Brendan Cummins’ all-time record tally. For Shefflin, it’s always been about the winning but he might be tempted by the possibility of trumping the Tipperary man. Unless, of course, he decides to do a Gary Lineker who quit international football just one goal shy of Bobby Charlton’s scoring record for England.
3. Five and out
It mightn’t be a consideration for him — certainly not one he would care to admit to — but after the relegation final Kilkenny will likely have a maximum of five matches this year.
Training in Nowlan Park will be gruelling as ever but nothing he hasn’t encountered and mastered before. Five games — four if they win Leinster and an All-Ireland semi-final — wouldn’t be a stretch.
4. Born again
It’s been Eddie Keher’s opinion for the last few years now that Shefflin has more than the capability of playing in the inside line, maybe in one of the corners, for a prolonged run. See on Tuesday how he simply shuffled his body one way to put distance between the ball and his marker full-back Mark O’Loughlin before scoring a fine point. Cathal Barrett may have given Shefflin a hard time in last year’s league final but few have the craft and reading of a game that the Kilkenny man possesses.
Brian Cody wouldn’t be known to convince players to stay on. If that was the case, you could be sure JJ Delaney would still be around. Yet if truth be told Kilkenny lost their major general in Delaney. Were Shefflin to go, they’d be without their lieutenant general.
Does it matter if he doesn’t start every game? Being a sub is one thing but being a used one, as he was last year, is another entirely.
1. The body
Is there any other current hurler that has gone under the knife as much as Shefflin? Five operations in six years, he’s put himself through incredible pain and rehab.
Feeling fit and strong, and he might be of the mind that he can attack the next few months. The punishment he has taken to be the supreme hurler he is must come at a price and his foot problems probably did cost a first-team place for most of last summer.
2. Substitute for another guy
As humble as Shefflin is, he has been the best and the greatest. Another season of coming on in the second halves of games may not be to his liking. It’s not in the forward line where Kilkenny are lacking, either. Admittedly, Aidan Fogarty is no longer part of the panel but Cody’s options without Shefflin are not as limited as they are in defence. Could the Ballyhale man reconcile with another season as a bit-part player?
3. Graceful goodbye
One of the most admirable aspects of Kilkenny hurling has been the dignified way the majority of players have quietly retired. Peter Barry, Brian McEvoy, Brian Hogan, Walsh and Delaney all spring to mind as athletes who all quietly exited stage left. Shefflin has already voiced his dislike for how the “will he, won’t he” debate has followed him these past months. What he won’t want is a long farewell.
4. Top of the heap
Again, who’s to say Shefflin would believe there would be no better time to bow out now, when he has everything? But silverware-wise he has just completed the perfect season — the Thomas Croke Cup (Division 1), Bob O’Keeffe Cup (Leinster), Liam MacCarthy Cup (All-Ireland), Tom Walsh Cup (Kilkenny club) Corn Uí Neill (Leinster club) and on St Patrick’s Day the Tommy Moore Cup. Could it really get any better?
5. The biggest hint
Last August, he appeared at the All-Ireland semi-final press night and there was a touch of finality in hi s words.
“Obviously my opportunities to win honours are diminishing every month,” he said.
On announcing a retirement he said: “I know it’s very, very close now but I will review it at the end of the year and see what way I’m feeling.”
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