Henry Shefflin has revealed he has a growing appreciation of the reasons why the Cork hurlers went on strike in 2002.
The two-time Hurler of the Year reveals in Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s Laochra Gael on TG4 tomorrow evening that their demands for better preparatory conditions assisted other teams and set a benchmark.
Shefflin and his team-mates were depicted as “Stepford Wives” by Dónal Óg Cusack in his autobiography. Cusack wrote: “We struggled and Kilkenny left us out there to walk our path alone.
“Through all the troubles we have had, we have often thought how much easier and how much more effective for all players this would be if Kilkenny and Cork were marching together.”
However, Shefflin now says: “As I got older, I could understand it more why they do it. You know, fair play to Seán Óg, Dónal Óg, these people at such a young stage of their career to take a stance.
“Obviously, it was a benefit not alone to the bigger counties but to the smaller counties that came after. It definitely was a benefit to them.”
Shefflin, who ranks Ó hAilpín as one of the best players he ever marked, admitted he was taken aback when Denis Walsh dropped the defender from the panel in 2010.
“I was very surprised because I have such respect for him on the field and I know from marking him how good he is. You’d look up (to him) in aspiration and say how he’s so fit and how well he looks after himself.”
The axe, which was compensated somewhat by Ó hAilpín’s reinstatement to the panel at the end of 2011, still rankles with the Na Piarsaigh man.
“I was of the belief that the reason was something other than hurling. When I was shown the door, I thought the same would happen to other players. However, I was the only one , so it must’ve been personal.”
Ó hAilpín admits avenging their 2003 All-Ireland final defeat by Kilkenny was the one thing that motivated them to win the following year’s Championship.
“We believed the Championship was not worth winning if we didn’t meet them in the final or on the way to the final. We had wanted to get our own back from the previous year.”
An honest Shefflin recalls losing his 2004 final duel with Ó hAilpín. “I started well for about five minutes but then Seán Óg rolled up his sleeves and that was the end of that. He really stood up.
“I’ve an up close and personal feeling of that day. At one stage, Seán Óg was coming out with 15 minutes gone and he just kind of looked at me and gave me a bit of a jostle as much to say ‘we’re not gone from here’.
“I think that was the statement Cork were trying to set down. It was a hard day for myself. I walked off the field knowing the better man had won on the day.”
The following year’s final was played on a Croke Park pitch heavily criticised by Cork. Ó hAilpín’s former manager and teacher Donal O’Grady remembers: “A junior B match wouldn’t have been played on Croke Park that day; the grass was three inches long. People were saying Kilkenny were waiting in the long grass. That was literally the case.”
Looking back on his dual playing days in 1999, Ó hAilpín questions the wisdom of committing to so many teams. “I was playing for both the Cork U21 football and hurling teams. I was playing for my club at senior and U21 level both in football and hurling week after week. It was just one game after another. I don’t know how I survived. Bonkers!”
He also regrets not adding a few words of the Rotuman language to his memorable all-Irish All-Ireland acceptance speech in 2005.
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