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Thursday 13 December 2018

Cody comparisons inevitable as Shefflin makes smooth transition

Colin Fennelly has praised the ‘leadership’ of new Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Colin Fennelly has praised the ‘leadership’ of new Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Henry Shefflin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

It shows the esteem in which Henry Shefflin is held in Kilkenny that despite there being no indication whatsoever that Brian Cody has even thought about stepping down as Cats manager, his former captain is being touted as his replacement.

In fact, Shefflin's candidacy for a role that hasn't been available for 20 years was being spoken about before he took over his club's senior hurling team, before he retired from playing even.

In some ways, it's a small leap to make.

While they collected Liam MacCarthy Cups for fun together, Shefflin was seen almost as Cody's emissary on the pitch, the playing embodiment of his manager's values.

"You would see small things," says Colin Fennelly, who knows both men well.

"The way Henry comes around and talks to you and stuff, and the respect he has is a massive thing, but Henry had that anyway as a player.

"He is just a massive influence on the team."

The initial signs are promising.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Already, Shefflin has brought Ballyhale Shamrocks to a county title at his first attempt, the first for Kilkenny's most successful club in four years.

So the transition from successful player to successful manager couldn't have been any smoother.

Qualities

And according to Fennelly, his leadership qualities as a player meant there were no awkward moments when he stood in front of his former team-mates as their manager for the first time.

"You would think in some instances it would be (awkward)," Fennelly says.

"But it's more his leadership and he is doing that as manager as well.

"He always was a leader for our team; he always spoke well before games and he is doing that again, keeping it short and to the point.

"That's what he is, there's no messing about.

"He tells you what it is and what we have to do and that's it."

There were obvious reputational risks associated with making such a hasty jump into management.

No hurler commands as much respect in Kilkenny, despite there being plenty of impressive men around in a era when they have redefined the meaning of the word success at inter-county level.

Yet Shefflin's willingness to go straight in with his club in a Championship as competitive as the Kilkenny SHC was surely just the latest indication of his relentless ambition.

"It's always going to be a gamble no matter what you do in hurling," Fennelly points out, "there's no safety net regards any game or any job you take.

"Of course you could say for the last few years it could have been a gamble, but for him winning another All-Ireland in 2014 was massive when people were telling him to retire years before that.

"Stepping up into a manager's position was great for him.

"He saw the talent was there, he saw the minor and Under-21 teams coming through and he just absolutely loves the club doing well.

"That's what you want, you don't want other people coming in.

"You see now managers getting paid in certain clubs and they are just kind of there come down, do the job and get out again, whereas Henry is there for life."

Fennelly was in Lebanon with the Irish Defence Forces when Cuala won their All-Ireland club final replay against Na Piarsaigh in March and he admits to being amazed by the Dublin club's quality.

Which is why he's wary of Ballyboden.

"Just the way Cuala did it was massive," he recalls, "and for Ballyboden to come out of the Dublin championship, they are going to be a mighty force so they are and a tough game."

Either way, given their recent underage success, Ballyhale are likely to be back here at some stage.

Just like their new manager, winning is part of the club's identity.

"That's probably what a lot of clubs find hard to do when you do win - to come back and go at it again," Fennelly points out.

"He is able to get that out of players," he concludes, "and it's what Brian Cody has done over the years."

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