King Henry plotting triumphant return to his old stomping ground

Galway boss Shefflin prepares to manage against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park for the first time

They will welcome the king home to Nowlan Park on Sunday.

Not that they will be hoisting him through the gates on a palanquin, but during his playing days Henry Shefflin carried the county to hurling nirvana. And the streets don’t forget.

From the moment Shefflin agreed to become Galway senior hurling manager, the most decorated hurler of all time was no doubt aware the road would probably lead him back to Nowlan Park at some stage.

And so, this Sunday, he will manage against Kilkenny in the Marble City for the first time. It will be the third occasion in his role as Galway manager that he has faced the Cats – the first two meetings unfortunately remembered as much for handshakes as hurling.


Galway won the round-robin game between the sides in Salthill last May, 1-24 to 3-17, but Brian Cody’s Kilkenny exacted revenge in the Leinster final at Croke Park in June, 0-22 to 0-17.

Derek Lyng has now replaced Cody as Kilkenny manager, meaning two players from the county’s era of dominance will share the sideline at Nowlan Park this weekend.

The pair occupied a Kilkenny dressingroom together for a decade, Lyng joining the squad in 2001 and calling time on his career in December 2010 because of persistent hip problems. During that period he won six All-Ireland titles, starting in five triumphant Liam MacCarthy finals alongside Shefflin.

“Henry is obviously massively respected, one of the all-time greats here in Kilkenny,” says seven-time All-Ireland winner Brian Hogan, who played for the Cats alongside both Shefflin and Lyng.

“So, he’ll get a positive reception in Nowlan Park, albeit Kilkenny fans will be hoping his Galway team are beaten.”

Hogan was Kilkenny’s centre back anchor for several years, often with Lyng playing in midfield and Shefflin lining out at 11 – the trio forming part of the team’s lauded spine.

Shefflin has spent much of his sporting life in Nowlan Park, but always either in the black and amber of Kilkenny or the green and white of Ballyhale Shamrocks. It will be a unique experience for him at the venue this Sunday.

However, Hogan does not believe any of the external chatter around managers carries any relevance to those within the walls of the two dressingrooms.

“I suppose when it emerged at first that Henry was going to Galway, there was an element of surprise, but at the same time through gritted teeth Kilkenny people were wishing him all the best. You’d want to see him do well but naturally that probably wouldn’t extend to matches against Kilkenny.

“And for the Ballyhale players they went through the whole experience last year of playing against a Galway team managed by Henry, so it won’t have any real impact in that regard.”

Both sides won their opening Leinster SHC group game last weekend, Kilkenny chalking up a facile home victory over Westmeath while Galway battled out a win over Wexford in Salthill.

Speaking after his side’s win over Wexford, Shefflin was asked about this weekend’s fixture and playing against his home county.

“I’m not playing against them,” he replied, pointing out it was all about the players on the pitch. “I think both sides know each other well, the round-robin kind of brings that level of playing each other frequently enough.”

But he was not playing down the significance of the game, because a victory for his Galway side would leave the Tribesmen in a terrific position to reach the knockout stages of the championship.

“It’s a massive game, obviously,” added Shefflin. “We know the consistency of Kilkenny in Leinster and the league, we know what they are going to bring.

“It is going to be a massive challenge for ourselves and I know more than most the importance of Nowlan Park to that team as well. So, we face a massive challenge.”

And Hogan does not see any handshake bickering overshadowing Sunday’s encounter.

“No, I don’t expect there to be a repeat of last year,” he says. “The two boys would be pally, they hurled together for the best part of a decade, they’d be around a similar age and they’d have great respect for each other.

“They would be similar in mindset, they’d both be self-motivated and highly competitive. Right now they are both trying to carve out their own name in management circles so they’ll both be going all out for the win, as they should.”

At the outset of the league, Derek Lyng attended a media event during which he was asked about the prospect of his facing his former team-mate in the championship.

“It will be different,” he said. “But to be honest, the only thing I’ll be concerned about is having the team ready to play Galway. That’s enough of a concern, it doesn’t really bother me who’s on the line.”

Winning or losing, that’s what is really on the line. Still, Henry Shefflin’s presence will form part of the pageantry around Sunday’s match in Nowlan Park – the return of the king.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times