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Saturday 16 December 2017

King Henry to abdicate his throne

Henry Shefflin
Henry Shefflin

SUCH is the exalted status of 'The King' that Henry Shefflin has been drowning in tributes even before today's official confirmation of his abdication from inter-county hurling.

His former Kilkenny colleague, Charlie Carter, saluted Shefflin as the "greatest team player" of all time while Sunday Game analyst Michael Duignan described him as "Brian Cody's lieutenant - he was the Cody of the dressing-room".

The debate about Shefflin's inter-county intentions, postponed for months as his club embarked on another All-Ireland odyssey, has intensified in the wake of Ballyhale Shamrocks' Croke Park coronation last week.

"I can't put it off any longer," the 36-year-old said after Ballyhale's demolition of Kilmallock - and, true to his word, the media has now been invited to a news conference today, fixed for high noon in Langton's Hotel, the scene of countless All-Ireland press nights during the player's stellar 16-year career.

There, Shefflin is set to bring the curtain down on the most decorated career in hurling history, one that yielded a record ten All-Ireland senior medals on the field, 13 Leinster titles, three All-Ireland club victories with Ballyhale, a staggering 11 All Stars, three Hurler of the Year awards, and so much more.

Charlie Carter was there at the outset, playing alongside the young Shefflin in his first ever league match (and Cody's first as manager) in early 1999 against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn.

"I remember Henry taking the frees and, from day one, you could see that this lad was here to stay and had all the talents," Carter told The Herald.

"A few years later he moved to another level, and then moved to be one of the greatest hurlers of all time."

Just how great, is the inevitable question? "DJ was probably the greatest hurler of all time - but Shefflin was probably the greatest team man of all time," is Carter's own summation.

"As a stick man, Carey in my eyes would still be top of the guys I have seen whereas Shefflin … to come back from all the injuries he has had is incredible. The dedication the man has shown over the years is incredible.

"I can still see a 'pic' at home, from the '99 All-Ireland team that was beaten by Cork, and he was standing in the back row with a pudgy face. Definitely, with time, he really, really looked after himself. I don't think any amateur has been as dedicated as Henry Shefflin.

"And the one thing above all - on the field he led by example. He didn't demand any more out of others than he demanded of himself - and he demanded a lot of himself," he concluded.

Both Carter and Michael Duignan highlighted the "nice guy" and grounded individual that Shefflin is away from the game. But in his theatre of battle, he is a "fierce competitor" possessed of a certain "aura", according to Duignan.

The Offaly All-Ireland winner added: "The 2000 final was his first (All-Ireland win) and my last. Even then he was phenomenal.

"The presence he had at such a young age was incredible, but he has developed definitely into one of the greatest players.

"I don't know how you judge players from different eras. Himself, JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh would be the greatest of this generation … I don't know could you divide them, but they were the three who really made this Kilkenny team great."

And now, in one fell swoop, all three are gone.

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