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Ballyhale Shamrock's players, from left, Henry Shefflin, Alan Cuddihy and Michael Fennelly celebrate after the game. Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship Final, Clara v Ballyhale Shamrocks, Nowlan Park, Co. Kilkenny. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

Ballyhale Shamrock's players, from left, Henry Shefflin, Alan Cuddihy and Michael Fennelly celebrate after the game. Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship Final, Clara v Ballyhale Shamrocks, Nowlan Park, Co. Kilkenny. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Ballyhale Shamrock's players, from left, Henry Shefflin, Alan Cuddihy and Michael Fennelly celebrate after the game. Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship Final, Clara v Ballyhale Shamrocks, Nowlan Park, Co. Kilkenny. Picture credit: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

HURLING'S most talked-about "will he or won't he?" retirement saga of 2014 has been extended by another week at least - with the distinct possibility that the same unanswered question could be hovering in the air come the start of 2015.

That's because Ballyhale Shamrocks are Kilkenny SHC champions again - for the sixth time in nine seasons - all of which means that Henry Shefflin won't be rushing to judgement on whether he has donned Black and Amber for the last time.

First things first: a Leinster semi-final road trip to the capital, there to face Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park. On the strength of last weekend's ultimately emphatic seven-point dethronement of holders Clara, Ballyhale are now favourites for Leinster and the All-Ireland, never mind this Sunday's joust with the south Dublin underdogs (throw-in 2.0).

Shefflin had already declared that he'd defer any decision on his Kilkenny future until after the conclusion of the club campaign, which could mean next Sunday but just as easily next March. He reiterated that movable time frame after helping Shamrocks back to the Noreside summit last Sunday.

DIFFICULT

"Whoever won was going to have it difficult going to Dublin next weekend," he said, already turning his thoughts towards Kilmacud.

"The people of Ballyhale will want to celebrate and we'll celebrate and join in with them. To go the following week is always tough, it'll be seriously tough - but wouldn't it be great to still go? There are only two games left in the Leinster club championship and we'd love to do it."

Then, unprompted, he continued: "You're probably wondering if it defers my decision ... of course it does because I said I'd see how the club went and I'm delighted to have another week anyway. It just defers the decision, that's what I've said from the outset and that's what I'll do. Hopefully it'll keep going for another few weeks."

TALISMANIC

The only player in history to win ten All-Ireland senior medals will turn 36 in January. Unlike the previous nine, this year's Celtic Cross was achieved as an impact sub, not the talismanic starter he has been for so long.

Yet according to the man himself, that reduced game-time has left him feeling physically fresher and Ballyhale have been the direct beneficiaries.

"I feel good," he confirmed. "The final wasn't one of my best games, but I've played well since the All-Ireland.

"I feel fit; I feel fresh as obviously I didn't play much during the year. I feel very good and I'm delighted to be still playing.

"Sometimes, when you go along with Kilkenny, you can tire a bit, mentally more than anything, but this year I didn't have that. Maybe some of the lads did, but they didn't show it.

"You're fresher, you want to play games and that's why you do all the training. For me I enjoy playing the games - obviously the weather is beginning to pull that back a bit, but being with the club is brilliant."

Typically, Shefflin was besieged by autograph hunters long after the cup had been presented to his captain, TJ Reid, on Sunday ... all of which begged the question is there anyone left in Kilkenny who hasn't already secured that coveted signature?

While Henry remains king of his Nowlan Park domain, he deflected the plaudits towards two of his colleagues - one of whom has long since retired from the inter-county scene.

First up Reid, who led by sublime example with ten points and numerous eye-catching assists against Clara.

PRIME

"When I was starting off," Shefflin recalled, "TJ was only a young chap down the field. He was very skilful when he started, and he still has that, but now his all-round game is top. He's 27, at his prime, and he's showing that."

Next up James Fitzpatrick: "Ye haven't seen the games, but quarter-final, semi-final, he's been doing that. People might question 'Cha' on his dedication and that - absolutely not, he's in great physical shape," he stressed.

"He may have a devil-may-care demeanour but he works away very hard behind the scenes. I'm thrilled for him, he's been a staunch leader for Ballyhale and he continues to be."


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