Henry Shefflin 'Now is the right time to quit'
It was the decision that everyone expected but even still there is no way to prepare for the end of a career like that of Henry Shefflin's. He will still grace the hurling fields of Kilkenny for Ballyhale Shamrocks but the All-Ireland Senior Championship will be poorer for his absence.
In a brief question and answer session after the statement was announced, Shefflin mentioned that his decision was hastened by looking at Kilkenny's Allianz League win over Clare last Sunday.
The game saw the home side edge the Banner by a single point. What was it that cemented the decision in his mind to bring the curtain down on a glittering career?
'It wasn't so much the game itself but I had met Brian on the Friday, and on Saturday I was becoming more comfortable. By Sunday I was really coming around to thinking it was the end. I was looking at the game and looking at Kevin Kelly and Jonjo Farrell and I remembered when I started and I just felt the time was right for myself. My heart was saying I'd love to go back but my head said now was the correct time. I was looking in as more a supporter rather than that's my team I was going back to.'
The speculation over his future had been building since last Tuesday's All-Ireland success in Croke Park. Speaking afterwards the hurling legend admitted that there would be a decision over the weekend. When a new week began many felt that Shefflin was considering staying on for a 17th season. So what happened in the days after the club success to finally make up his mind :
'We had a few good days celebration after the club but then I woke up Thursday morning and I knew I had to reflect. When the club campaign was going I was very much in the bubble of still training and preparing for thinking 'can I go on for another few months' but the minute the campaign ended my body and maybe my mind went 'now is the right time'. With each passing day I reflected more and felt more at ease with the decision. You have to be selfish,you have to do what's right for yourself and I feel this is totally right for myself.'
Shefflin has suffered a number of serious injury's in his career,including damaging his cruciate knee ligament twice while the 2012 season was almost ruined by a persistent shoulder problem. How is the body feeling now-knowing that it will not have to face into a 17th inter-county season
'I wouldn't have aches and pains,I'm in very good shape to be honest. I got a little knock on my shoulder before the All-Ireland club final which set me back a little. I missed some training but physically wise I'm in very good shape. You would be afraid that some of the old injury's would come back to haunt you so I think at my age your susceptible to getting those injury's, so otherwise I'm in very good shape. Physically and fitness wise I've had a very good run so I'm very happy in that space.
So with his inter county career now over what will Shefflin devote his energy to. There is much speculation that the 10 time All-Ireland winner will become a TV pundit while there is also some reports linking him to a managerial role in the near future:
'I honestly don't know. I haven't had tome to think of that you know. Obviously my book is coming(his autobiography is due to be published in October) so I better do a bit of work on that. It's been out off long enough. There is one or two campaigns with sponsors during the summer but after that I don't know. I'd love to help out with the underage teams in Ballyhale and I'll start from there.
I'm not going to say here today I'm looking for a management job because its a very tough job. I very much to enjoy hurling with Ballyhale and I want to give something back for the time being. When you get a bit older with children then you can see. I think hurling will play apart in my life and there will be some more opportunities.'
Shefflin ends his career as widely regarded as not only the finest hurler of all time, but also with an unblemished disciplinary record at inter-county level. The Ballyhale man was sent off for his only time in the 2013 All-Ireland q-final but the card was later rescinded. How important was it for him and his reputation for that decision to be overturned:
'I think it was important in the context that it was Brian that wanted me to do that. Brian the great manger he is was probably thinking of the year and the following year and if I got another red card. I was only ever sent off in one game-in a minor championship south final which I feel very bad about to this day,I was mouthing to the ref so no change there-and even the lads last week were still slagging me about it. It was important and I knew I hadn't done too much wrong.'
Shefflin becomes the sixth recent All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny to call it a day after previous retirements from JJ Delaney,Aidan Fogarty, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh and David Herity. Did their decisions to call time on their careers have any bearing on his own retirement
'Four of us were subs first of all so that made major difference I imagine in the thought process of players. I think JJ is very much his own man as well. When the lads reflected,we've all worn the jerseys and we've all done it and the time comes when it's the right moment to call it a day. There's no doubt about it,time waits for no man and the players themselves felt now was the right time.
The reason we've been so successful in Kilkenny is the strength of the club here(in Kilkenny)and you see someone like Tommy Walsh who wants to go back to his club for a year or two and that's one of the reasons for the decision.'
So Ballyhale will now finally get the full fruits of an hurling legend. Ever since his breakthrough with Kilkenny, the forward has been seen rarely down in the south of the county at club session. Fresh from their sixth All-Ireland club success-and third of Shefflin's career-how excited is he to be able finally to give 100% to his team:
I think we have team that there is opportunities there to win more. I think its only fair that I go back and play with my club and put in the summer and go down when there is only 12 or 13 at training. They have done it long enough when I was off with the county so I look forward to that aspect of it.'
And what of the reaction of his former teammates to another man departing the now infamous Whatsapp group. JJ Delaney mentioned in a recent interview that he found it hard departing the messaging app that has grown in legend over the last number of years. Ritchie Hogan's tweet on Wednesday summed up the mood of the panel when he screen grabbed the moment Shefflin decided to sever links with is former dressing room colleagues,
'We have our WhatsApp group and they’d be slagging me about social media. I sent them a message out in the carpark. I used to be very sad when I looked up the messages when one of the lads has left the group and the next minute there’s a lovely message from him saying, ‘thanks very much for everything’. I had to do that at 11.30am out in the car park in Langton’s today. That was very sad. I wouldn't be here today without those lads. We’ve so many good memories on and off the field of play and I’m going to miss them so that was the only emotional thing about it, saying goodbye to the lads.'