Slaughtneil can climb the summit - but it takes a lot of hard graft: Henry Shefflin
HURLING legend Henry Shefflin believes Slaughtneil have what it takes to make the All-Ireland breakthrough - but warned there can be no let-up in their pursuit of glory.
Back in January, Shefflin’s Ballyhale Shamrocks side played out an “unbelievable” match with the Derry and Ulster champions in Newry that was in the melting pot right to the death.
The Kilkenny kingpins eventually emerged victorious and went on to claim back-to-back All-Ireland crowns, their eighth in all, at the expense of Tipperary’s Boris-Ileigh.
Despite being 1/20 to ease into their second successive All-Ireland final, Shefflin knew the Derry men would push them all the way in January’s pulsating semi-final.
“The great thing for Slaughtneil was that they’d built up that resolve with the football and hurling over the previous few years,” said Shefflin.
“To break down barriers is a very difficult thing, and we found that ourselves when we did in ’06 because we weren’t expected to do it.”
Shefflin added: “Of course, I think a team like Slaughtneil can do it, but it takes an awful lot of work and that community and parish are committed to doing that. It’s not easy but I think it does show if a team gets special players together, gets a good management team, gets the community behind them, but they have to put in the work.
“A lot of people would say it comes easy to Ballyhale – it doesn’t come easy. It’s a community effort and it’s no different to Slaughtneil. Our semi-final with them was an unbelievable game and we knew it was going to be a tough game but I didn’t expect it to be such a good game.”
Each time Michael McShane’s side have competed on the All-Ireland stage the closer they’ve got to reaching a decider.
In 2017, Cuala humbled them in a semi-final.
The following season, they pushed Limerick kingpins Na Piarsaigh all the way in Parnell Park but came out on the losing end.
Reflecting on their narrow win over the Emmet’s, Shefflin said: “People said to me: ‘Ah, you barely got over the line’, but I knew we’d be pushed. It was better than any training session or match we’d played and I knew it would stand us in good stead two weeks later [against Boris-Illeigh].
“But I do think Slaughtneil can do it, but you need that belief. I think we went five points ahead after 50 minutes and I felt that was it. But it was that belief, that desire, that confidence in themselves that they weren’t backing down. That is the difference in most teams that want to break down the barrier and that’s what Slaughtneil have, I think.”
Just a few days after Ballyhale’s All-Ireland win, Shefflin stepped down as manager.
As he did on the hurling field with his club and county, Shefflin showed admirable leadership as manager as the Ballyhale club came through a bleak period after the deaths of two players Eoin Doyle and Eugene Aylward within the space of 18 months.
The 41-year-old father-of-five, who won 10 All-Irelands with Kilkenny and 11 Allstars in a spectacular playing career, is enjoying recharging his batteries with his family.
“It was a little bit easier when you were dealing with such talented players and we were successful over that period of time as well. But I’ve got a young family, I’ve other commitments as well, it is full on and it’s time-consuming, it’s all-consuming. As a player you’re an individual, but as a manager you worry about everyone.
“I will try and get back at it at some stage. That time will come. I went straight from playing into management and I didn’t think I was going to go on for an extended period as I did with Ballyhale. My plan was always to do a couple of years and take a break and enjoy my family and that’s what I’m doing at the moment.”
Shefflin announced his retirement from playing in March 2015 and while he enjoyed so much success, he still found saying goodbye a tough thing to do.
“In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been difficult at all but of course it was because it was such a part of my life. We had such great success and some great opportunities along the way and I really enjoyed doing it.
“It was the right thing to do and I think I knew that, and it was the right time to do it as well. There were no regrets or anything like that. It was a hard decision to make, just to say goodbye.”