The announcement of Henry Shefflin as the new Galway manager has generated huge interest and excitement for the inter-county season ahead.
There are many different subplots woven throughout this appointment. How did it come about when it appeared as though Davy Fitzgerald was all but certain to take the post? How will Shefflin cope in his first move into inter-county management? Will he approach Joe Canning about a possible return from retirement?
But without doubt the most tantalising aspect of this appointment is that the Kilkenny legend will have to face off against his own county and his former boss Brian Cody in the Leinster Championship.
Former Cork star and current Mary Immaculate College manager Jamie Wall is fascinated by the idea of Shefflin in charge of Galway and believes he can identify the weaknesses in Cody’s setup.
“I’m not surprised that Henry Shefflin has got a very important and big job. In my eyes, he’s the best hurler I’ve ever seen play. But also, he has two All-Irelands won as a club manager with Ballyhale. So his pedigree as a manager, while it’s in the process of being proven, it’s got a hell of a start. So I’m not surprised to see somebody take a punt with Henry, and with the brain he is.
“Something I really like about him when I watched him on television of late is he’s quite statesmanlike. It strikes me as if he’s almost born for that leadership/management role. He doesn’t use the Sunday Game or any of his analysis or punditry, he doesn’t use that as an advertising platform.
“It’s not like Gary Neville, before he took his ill-fated managerial role. You almost felt that Monday Night Football was Gary Neville’s pitch for a long time. Shefflin hasn’t done that. He’s been able to straddle that line of being clearly very astute and in tune with the modern game, while also not really giving away too much in true Kilkenny fashion. 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 inter-county level, because tactically the game has advanced an awful lot in the last while.
“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.”
As for the question surrounding Canning, Wall has no doubt that Shefflin will reach out to the former Hurler of the Year but whether or not he will return to the Galway jersey remains to be seen.
“I’d love to see it”, Wall admits, “But I think Joe Canning is Joe Canning. He’s 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. And he’d certainly be very welcome throughout the country because he’s one of the country’s best players.
“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.
“Obviously 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.
“I don’t know and there’s very few people in Irish sport will ever know what it feels like to be Joe Canning. He’s a household name since he was 16. That is something that as a sport, he owes and Galway absolutely less than nothing.
“Whatever way he falls on it I’m going to be quite happy to either raise a glass to his return and hope he doesn’t beat Cork on his own like he nearly did that day he scored 2-12 in 2008, but equally if Joe Canning decides he just wants to have a bit of time for Joe Canning, then I’ll be pretty happy to respect that as well.”
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/
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