Shefflin's no-show a precaution


THOSE DRAWN to Clara on Sunday evening in anticipation of Henry Shefflin’s return to the Kilkenny jersey may have been disappointed by the failure of the eight-time All-Ireland medallist to appear, but team-mate Jackie Tyrrell has attributed his non-appearance to nothing more than careful planning to get the sport’s most decorated hurler fit and ready for the championship.

Shefflin – dogged by a shoulder injury that ruled him out of Kilkenny’s National League campaign – appeared for club Ballyhale Shamrocks on Friday night but, according to Tyrrell, “to play two games in one weekend was just too much after just coming back . . . he’s slowly building it up and didn’t want to risk hurting it again.”

But, just as one player is working his way back to fitness, the injury jinx has struck Kilkenny again with the news that Cillian Buckley faces a month on the sidelines after sustaining a hamstring injury.

Kilkenny have also lost 2011 hurler of the year Michael Fennelly to a long-term ankle injury, while Richie Power is recovering from a knee injury and Michael Rice is another on the treatment table.

Buckley underwent a scan yesterday which confirmed the hamstring strain that puts him in a race against time to make Kilkenny’s opening championship game on June 23rd.

Shefflin’s targeted return date is also that Leinster championship semi-final, with the winners of Saturday week’s Laois-Dublin quarter-final. He has played two club matches to date as part of his comeback programme.

Dublin, too, got bad news on the injury front with confirmation that defender Martin Quilty – a graduate of the Leinster Under-21 winning teams of the past two years – had become the latest cruciate knee injury victim, which will rule him out for the summer.

For all their injuries, Kilkenny – as ever – remain the team to beat heading into the championship, which catches fire with the Munster quarter-final meeting of Tipperary and Limerick at Semple Stadium on Sunday.

Tyrrell, speaking at yesterday’s launch of the “2012 Kits for Clubs” initiative in association with Opel Ireland, claimed Kilkenny – who defeated Cork in the National League final – had room for improvement: “I think we can improve right across the board . . . 12 months ago, we were gone. Dublin beat us in the league final and look what happened then after that. The league is the league. Teams put big emphasis [on it], some don’t.

“We put a lot in to it, we won it and we were delighted with it. But at the end of the day it is only the league. We got wiped off the field last year [by Dublin] and still went on to have a good year [winning the All-Ireland], so it is what it is. We used it and blooded some good young lads,” said Tyrrell, who poured cold water on the theory that Kilkenny are far ahead of everyone.

“As regards being a step ahead of everyone else, after the Cork [group] game, everyone thought we were struggling and Cork were going to overtake us. That was our last game and it’s only because we had such a big win in the league final that people are starting to talk like this.”

Meanwhile, the big decision to be made in the Limerick camp for Sunday’s visit to Tipperary is whether star teenager Declan Hannon – who has been out of action with a groin strain – will take his place in the attack.

Hannon hasn’t played for Limerick since February due to the recurring groin injury but resumed training with the squad last week and took part in a behind-closed-doors match at the Gaelic Grounds last Friday evening. Limerick are definitely without defender Séamus Hickey, who suffered a broken bone in his arm during a club match last week.

Louth won’t be there ‘to make up the numbers’ against Dublin

WHEN YOU get a ticket to face the All-Ireland champions in Croke Park – “everybody’s dream,” as Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick put their June 3rd date with Dublin – you know there’s unlikely to be any hiding place, writes Philip Reid.

And Louth captain Paddy Keenan knows his team need to up the ante on their late Houdini act against Westmeath. “We’ve a lot of work to do . . . we can’t paper over the cracks,” he conceded, “but we’re not going to Croke Park to make up the numbers. We have to go at them and be confident and take them on.”

Although Louth have been hard hit by injuries and emigration, manager Fitzpatrick claimed he was “looking forward to it.”

He explained: “People will think that we are just going up to make the numbers but the hardest game in the Leinster championship is always the first game. Whether it was Westmeath or Louth, I felt that whoever won would give Dublin a good game the next day.”

Meanwhile, the “2012 Kit for Clubs” in association with Opel Ireland was launched yesterday where Jackie Tyrrell (Kilkenny), Joe Canning (Galway), Liam Rushe (Dublin) and Colm Cooper (Kerry) were announced as brand ambassadors. GAA fans are encouraged to collect points to earn free sports equipment for their local clubs.