The eight times Henry Shefflin actually had to experience the human feeling of defeat
Eight. Just eight of them.
The curtain has come down this afternoon on the career of a great, as Henry Shefflin announced his retirement from intercounty hurling, after 16 years and so many medals they're starting to fall down through the cushions on the couch.
He's the most successful player of all-time, the highest scorer of all time, and you'd have to look hard to find someone who'll dispute that he's the greatest of all time.
So in tribute to the King, and partly because it would be incredibly time consuming to list out his greatest achievements, we've decided to take a look back at the days when Henry Shefflin actually had to experience life as a normal human being and suffer defeat, all eight of them.
Mainly though, I'm writing this to convince myself that despite having superhuman hurling skills, Henry Shefflin and I are both members of the human race.
It's frightening to think that in an era of back-door systems, a player can end his 16-year career with more All-Ireland titles (10), provincial championships (13), and All-Stars (11) than defeats, but in 71 Championship appearances, there were only eight occasions, and four different counties who had him on a losing side.
However, ruthlessness seems to be hereditary in Kilkenny, and on several occasions, Shefflin and his Cats weren't long getting their revenge.
1. 1999 All-Ireland final (Cork 0-13 Kilkenny 0-12)
I'll always remember the '99 final for Mark Landers exclaiming "Welcome back to Leeside, Liam McCarthy, we've missed you a lot!", in what was at the time the thickest Cork accent I had ever heard, but little did we know it would be the first of 15 All-Ireland finals (including replays) that the flame-haired full-forward would go on to feature in. Shefflin scored five points that day, and a haul of 1-24 over four games in his debut season was a sign of things to come.
2. 2001 All-Ireland semi final (Galway 2-15 Kilkenny 1-13)
For a side without an All-Ireland for so long, Galway have never shown much fear in Kilkenny, and out of Shefflin's eight championship defeats, three have come against the Tribesmen. Galway surprised plenty to dethrone the then All-Ireland champions in the 2001 semi final, with Kevin Broderick's famous point late in the game going down as one of the most memorable scores of all time. Nine points came from the hurl of Shefflin that afternoon, with Henry notching 1-18 in three games that summer.
3. 2004 Leinster semi final (Wexford 2-15 Kilkenny 1-16)
By the time 2004 rolled around, Kilkenny's Leinster Championship runs were more like processions than campaigns, but Wexford stumped them that summer in dramatic circumstances. Leading by a point in the last play of the game, Wexford's Adrian Fenlon dropped a stunning sideline cut into the edge of the square. As Kilkenny's Peter Barry soared to claim it, Kilkenny looked to have avoided the danger, but Michael Jacob blocked the clearance, before firing first time on the turn straight into the roof of the net. Brian Cody fell to his knees to the left of the screen, and the final whistle blew instantly. The Cats had to travel down the back road to the All-Ireland final that year.
4. 2004 All-Ireland final (Cork 0-17, Kilkenny 0-9)
After experiencing the foreign and degrading back-door system in 2004, Kilkenny made their way back to the All-Ireland final, looking for the three in a row. Standing in their way though was the Cork side they had edged out in the previous year's decider. It was a long, arduous 70 minutes from Kilkenny, who were held to just nine points on the day, their lowest ever score with Shefflin in the team. The King wedged in with five of the nine points, two of which came from play. In the end, it was to be the only year that Shefflin would lose two championship games in the one season, but he still racked up a mammoth 6-44 in seven games that year.
5. 2005 All-Ireland semi final (Galway 5-18 Kilkenny 4-18)
I was on holidays in Germany when this game was being played, and I vividly remember the moment my father had texted me to tell me the full-time score. Alas, Galway would again fall at the final hurdle after toppling the Cats, losing out to Cork in the decider, but as little consolation as it is, they'll always be remembered for coming out on top in one of the greatest games of hurling ever played. 1-9 of the Cats' 4-18 came from the stick of Shefflin that afternoon, and we didn't know it at the time, but the best of King Henry was yet to come.
6. 2010 All-Ireland final (Tipperary 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18)
It was five years before Shefflin would experience championship defeat again. In those five years, he was the undisputed King, winning four All-Irelands on the spin, was named Hurler of the Year and RTE Sports Person of the year in 2006, and had picked up eight consecutive All-Star Awards. However, the All-Ireland final of 2010 is sure to bring back painful memories, in more ways than one. After suffering a cruciate ligament injury in the semi-final hammering of Cork, Shefflin showed his determination by miraculously togging out just a few weeks later against Tipperary in the final. However, even Shefflin couldn't overcome an injury of that magnitude, and his knee got the better of him early in the game. Tipp eventually romped to victory, making amends for the previous year's defeat, but people will always wonder what if, had the King been fit.
7. 2012 Leinster final (Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11)
Shefflin and Kilkenny got revenge on Tipp the following year, but in 2012, they were blitzed by a rampant Galway side in the Leinster final, coughing up 2-12 in the first half. Shefflin led the comeback charge in the second half though, finishing with 1-8 of the Cats' 2-11 score that afternoon. However, as tends to happen, Shefflin had the last laugh come September, getting revenge on Galway in the All-Ireland hurling final and winning his third Hurler of the Year title that winter.
8. 2013 All-Ireland quarter final (Cork 0-19 Kilkenny 0-14)
Shefflin's final defeat in a black and amber jersey came against the side who gave him his first. It was also Shefflin's darkest moment for his county, after he was sent off in the opening half for two bookings. Cork marched on to the All-Ireland final that year, before being beaten by Clare after two pulsating games of hurling. For Kilkenny, it was apparently the end of an era, but 12 months later the King bowed out in style, becoming the first ever player to win 10 All-Ireland titles on the pitch, a fitting farewell to the greatest career of them all.