Shane Stapleton: Cody v Shefflin will be a curious sight
In his first GAA column for the Betway Insider, Shane Stapleton looks ahead to an exciting weekend of hurling.
Over the years, Brian Cody has referred to some of the more bruising games that his Kilkenny teams have participated in as “just good, manly stuff”.
Physicality is a quality that almost every GAA supporter wants to see in their club and county teams, with honour at stake as much as the result.
A deficiency in that has been levelled at the Cork hurlers, who followed up a hefty league final defeat to Waterford with a comprehensive loss at home to All-Ireland champions Limerick two weeks ago.
The manner of these collapses made for painful viewing for the Rebels, and the murmuring of the locals throughout the second half at Pairc Ui Chaoimh suggested a measure of mortification at what their troops were displaying.
A team beaten from pillar to post, as they had been in the 2021 All-Ireland final, perhaps drifting towards irrelevance just as the season began.
This Sunday in Thurles, Cork are up against Clare in their second outing of the Munster championship. The latter dismissed Tipperary at this same venue last Sunday, and could well end the Rebels’ season should they edge this encounter.
Jump back 10 seasons to the 2013 All-Ireland SHC decider when these two counties met, to what many have since pejoratively referred to as the first non-contact final in history.
What can’t be denied is that it took two thrilling games for the Banner to claim the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and just seven players survive on the current panels.
Clare's David McInerney, Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell were teenagers back then, while John Conlan continues to lead the team, albeit now from the defence.
For Cork, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan remain as attacking focal points, while Conor Lehane has returned to the panel after being dropped for 2021.
The two teams had begun that 2013 campaign as outsiders but built huge momentum on the way to the final.
One crucial aspect was the early elimination of the two most physical teams of that time: Kilkenny and Tipperary. Injuries hampered both, with the Cats knocking out Tipp before a tough qualifier run stretched the former’s resources further.
Henry Shefflin received a harsh red card, later rescinded, in the quarter-final against Cork, as the Rebels won to blow the competition wide open.
On reflection, a hectic schedule had derailed Cody’s Kilkenny who were beaten by Dublin in a replay before essentially playing the equivalent of a Munster championship — Tipp, Waterford and Cork — in just 22 days.
Just now, Limerick are winning games despite a mounting injury bill that includes superstars Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes, but how many more strings must be pulled out before they unravel? Perhaps a few more yet.
Kieran Kingston has heard all the talk of how he needs to rip up the Cork script and replace silken hurlers with grizzled men.
Recent championship results between these two counties suggest they can win without doing so, but this may also be his best chance to reconstruct his team with more physical men — hightowers Rob Downey and Mark Keane being two muscular options.
Whatever happens, his side must at the very least go down fighting.
Speaking of Shefflin, he spent the entirety of his 16-year inter-county career playing under Cody, but this weekend the two collide as Galway entertain Kilkenny at Pearse Stadium.
It’s year 24 at the helm for the old grandmaster of hurling, whose most recent All-Ireland title win came the year after Shefflin’s retirement: 2015.
That win came against The Tribe, a county who had also famously been foiled in memorable circumstances in 2012. With Fergal Moore tying down Shefflin for most of the first half of the drawn clash, the latter redeployed himself to centre-forward and turned the game back in his county’s direction.
Shefflin fired a late penalty over the bar to put his side one ahead, but Davy Glennon — who this weekend lines out for Westmeath against Dublin — won an even later free from which Joe Canning equalised.
Cody has a habit of shaking things up and brought in Wally Walsh for his debut in the replay win, with the youngster rifling 1-3 in a title-winning performance as Shefflin claimed his third Hurler of the Year award.
The world has turned many times in the decade since. Cody is still unleashing Walsh into battle, but now it is his most famous on-field general plotting against him.
One other man vying for the spot as Kilkenny’s greatest ever forwards — TJ Reid — hails from the same club as Shefflin: Shamrocks of Ballyhale. All smiles and jokes between them down at the local shop in recent weeks and months, no doubt, but that goes on hold at Pearse Stadium.
After so many years collaborating to bend the world of hurling to their collective will, the sight of Cody versus Shefflin in bainisteoir bibs will be rather curious. Expect good, manly stuff.