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Cats' ace Henry Shefflin: The time is right to call it a day

By Martin Breheny

It was the conversation that both knew would come eventually, even if they wanted to put it off for as long as possible.

After working together for 16 seasons, the longest manager-player partnership in GAA was about to end.

Henry Shefflin met Brian Cody last Friday, knowing that his career in Kilkenny's black and amber jersey was up. Cody would welcome him back but there would be no attempt at persuasion. It was a personal decision.

Still, Cody told Shefflin to reflect, which he did over the weekend. Deep down, he knew where it was taking him, a process helped by watching the Kilkenny-Clare game on Sunday.

"It wasn't anything about the game itself. I just think the realisation had come (that it was time to go)," said Shefflin. "I was looking at the match and seeing some newer players and thinking, 'I remember when I started out'.

"I just felt now was the right time to go. My heart was saying I'd love to go back but my head came to terms that now was the correct time."

Shefflin, who won a remarkable 10 All-Ireland titles, 13 Leinster championships, 11 All Star awards and five National League honours, met Cody again on Monday and they reminisced about the great successes Kilkenny had enjoyed since 1999.

"He was very complimentary and one of the nicest things he said was, 'You've got the very best out of yourself'. I was happy with that. I hope I've learned something from that and that it will be possible to transfer it off the field of play," said Shefflin.

Cody was the first to hear that Shefflin had opted to quit, followed by Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn.

The 36-year-old informed his Kilkenny colleagues formally by text from the car park of Langton's Hotel before yesterday's press conference.

It scarcely came as news to them, but it had to be done.

"People ask me, 'are you emotional?' That was one of the emotional parts (telling his colleagues)," he said.

"That was very sad. I wouldn't be here today without those lads. I'm going to miss them."

And was Cody emotional?

Shefflin (pictured) smiled: "I think you know the answer."

The pair had an excellent relationship over the years, Cody as the backroom and sideline strategist, Shefflin as his on-field enforcer.

"He moulded me into the player I became. He gave me my opportunity. For me, he's the greatest manager of all-time. What he has done for me and Kilkenny has been phenomenal, so I couldn't speak highly enough of him. I've had a great relationship with him and I look forward to it continuing into the future," said Shefflin.

He regards his performance against Galway in the drawn 2012 All-Ireland final as his most memorable, a day in which everything went right for him as he dug Kilkenny back into a contest they looked like losing at various times.

"That day something happened inside me. I felt like I was out there on my own. I just wanted to keep playing," he recalled. "That's a feeling that sports people only achieve once or twice in our careers. It was a special day. I've had matches where I scored a lot more, but it was just that everything I stood for transcended itself that day."

There were days of regret too, especially the 2010 All-Ireland final against Tipperary where he was forced out after 13 minutes, having thought he had recovered from a serious knee injury.

"If I was back again would I do it? I myself would but Brian and the medical team would probably say no.

"There were days too where I didn't enjoy it as much as I should. I just moved onto the next year. As I got older I realised that I really did need to experience and embrace the whole occasion and all that goes with being part of it," he said.

With his inter-county days behind him, he will devote more time to his club, as a player and a coach to underage players.

As for longer-term management ambitions, he has no plans, although he didn't dismiss it either.

"I wouldn't rule anything out. For now, I want to continue to enjoy hurling with Ballyhale. I want to give something back to the club, who have always been very good to me," he concluded.

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