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'He's got a lot of interesting decisions to make' - the subplots of Shefflin's move to Galway

The legendary Kilkenny hurler is taking charge out west.

New Galway manager Henry Shefflin.
New Galway manager Henry Shefflin.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

HENRY SHEFFLIN’S DEBUT season of inter-county management will be one of the many fascinating subplots once 2022 gets underway. 

The surprise appointment of hurling’s most decorated player as Galway boss last week created shockwaves around the country, after reports indicated the job was Davy Fitzgerald’s to lose. 

For now, Shefflin is focusing on Thomastown’s bid to prevail in the Kilkenny intermediate championship as they take on Glenmore in Sunday’s semi-final. But before long his attention will turn to getting a tune out of a Tribe group that have underachieved since their All-Ireland victory of 2017.

The prospect of Shefflin going up against former manager Brian Cody in the Leinster championship is a mouth-watering one.

How he shapes the Galway squad, with plenty of All-Ireland winners still part of the set-up, his first campaign will be equally compelling. 

Of the All-Ireland winning team of 2017, Joseph Cooney, Johnny Coen (both 30), Gearoid McInerney, David Burke (both 31) and Aidan Harte (33) are the elder statesmen of the panel. 

“In the immediate term, I think he’s got a lot of interesting decisions to make,” says Mary Immaculate College Fitzgibbon Cup manager Jamie Wall.

“What he has is, he’s got a squad that are not ‘old old’. He’s got a couple of players that are in that age, 28, 29, 30, which is not that old. But it’s like, ‘where are we going with all these guys at the same time? Which are the ones that are going to become the leaders of the team? And which ones are going to be moved on?’

“So I’m very interested to see. His time in charge of Ballyhale is probably an indication of the kind of manager and the brand of hurling he’s going to employ. I felt Ballyhale very much played the game, they had that old Kilkenny style and steel, but they used the ball a lot shorter and smarter when they needed to.

“They played modern hurling, and I think it’s going to be quite interesting to see how he sets up a team at intercounty level, because tactically the game has advanced an awful lot in the last while. And I think he’s been involved at the front of that in club level, and involved in terms of analysing games.

“He’s very much in tune with that, I reckon. So it’s going to be really interesting to see how he sets up an intercounty team. It’s going to be fascinating. I really can’t wait to see it. It’s the most interesting appointment they could have made.”

jamie-wall Jamie Wall is an ambassador for Let’s Get Back, a campaign created by Sport Ireland in partnership with Healthy Ireland, encouraging the Irish public to return to the sport and physical activity. Full details of the Let’s Get Back campaign and how get back to sport and exercise in a safe and secure manner, visit sportireland.ie Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Wall has no doubt Shefflin will make an approach to Joe Canning to reconsider his inter-county retirement, but whether the 33-year-old decides to row back on that decision is another matter. 

“I’d love to see it,” says Wall. “But I think Joe Canning is his own man. And in fairness, he has done so much in the game that I don’t think it’s for me to say whether he should come back or not.

“All I know is that I’m sure he’d be very welcome if he did want to come back. But equally, I have no idea what Joe Canning has physically, even just the physical toll of playing at the top level.

“He’s been on our screens since he was 16 years of age playing with Portumna. He knows his body and his mind better than any of us do. I think he’ll make the decision that’s right for him, and for Galway I’m sure as well. He’s been one of the greatest players Galway have ever had. I think ultimately whatever decision he makes is going to be the right one, and it’s going to be for him to say.

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“Obviously with a player of his quality, I’m sure such phone calls will be made. Whatever way he falls on that I’m quite happy to respect that decision as one of the best players that I was ever lucky enough to see play and see play for long enough at that top level.

“That toll of inter-county GAA, physically and mentally it’s massive. He did allude to that and spoke very well on it, is that something that when you sign out of you feel this overwhelming thing of relief.”

Wall, who is also in charge of his native Kilbrittain in the Cork intermediate championship, is particularly interested to see how Shefflin sets his team up against Kilkenny and what potential weaknesses he identifies. 

“They’re going to play Kilkenny in the Leinster championship at least once, probably twice, and they could play them again in an All-Ireland. It’s going to be really, really interesting to see Shefflin and Cody, and how that whole thing plays out. And how he sets up to try and beat Kilkenny. 

“There’s another question: What does Shefflin think is wrong with Kilkenny? It’s not that he’s going to come out and say that, he’s not going to give a Brendan Rodgers-type answer where he details everything the other manager is doing wrong. But it’s going to be seen in what he does tactically.

“Where does he see Kilkenny are weak? It’s something that you don’t get too often because it’s something you get out of them when they’re doing their punditry. I’m going to talk for a long time about how interesting this appointment is. I really can’t wait to see it. I think it’s going to be fascinating.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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