Whelan injury a major concern for Shefflin and Galway

Loss of Kinvara star would be a blow for Tribesmen in advance of big Kilkenny clash

For the best part of an hour or so the eras were in seemingly neat transition. Post Joe Canning, presently Henry Shefflin, Galway were ideally placed to begin their Leinster hurling championship campaign in winning style.

Six points up and frustrating Wexford in most sectors of the field, it was merely a case on driving on home. As turning points go the sight of Conor Whelan limping off injured certainly didn't auger well, the Kinvara forward helping fill that void left by Canning with three points from play already, readily in the hunt for more.

Within another couple of minutes Wexford closed the gap to three, Conor McDonald pouncing for the goal that until then had eluded him, and that changed everything.

As time closed out, Whelan’s absence was clearly missed and even if Galway had themselves to blame for allowing Wexford to equalise at the death it was a reminder of his critical role for the rest of the campaign.

Instead, Whelan will almost certainly miss Galway’s second outing this Saturday when they host Westmeath in Pearse Stadium, and for Shefflin the more pressing hope is that Whelan might be fit to return when his former manager Brian Cody brings his Kilkenny team to Salthill the following Sunday.

“Unfortunately he has picked up a slight hamstring strain, so we are not quite sure,” explained Shefflin. “It will be a couple of days and we’ll assess it.

Shefflin has some other players to worry about too, even if their Leinster campaign is still relatively kind, games against Westmeath and Laois in between last Saturday’s draw and Kilkenny and Dublin, three at home too.

Ronan Glennon was arguably the in-form player of Galway's league, only he didn't make the panel on Saturday, also ruled out with a hamstring strain sustained in training last week.

“It all depends on how well we perform in the Leinster championship, truthfully,” added Shefflin, “I think it’s going to be tight for Ronan. It’s six matches, five weeks, and that hamstring injury is obviously six or eight weeks so he’s going to be stretched to see for the latter stages of it. That’s what the panel is for, and we’ll see where we go.

“It is apparent the last few weeks have been good in the sense of trying players and I suppose we’ll see what next week holds with injuries and the form of lads and we’ll look forward to Westmeath now.

Small setback

“I thought the tackling was very good and they were very aggressive, like I said I thought they worked very hard and probably worked so hard come the end they were probably blowing a little bit and that’s good, too.”

Jason Flynn also endured a setback on his expected return in time for the championship having also been sidelined with a hamstring since the Walsh Cup back in January.

“Jason is still a bit away yet, unfortunately,” he said. “He had a little small setback a couple of weeks ago so it will push him back by another week or two. It’s just a work in progress unfortunately.”

After hitting 10 wides in the first, Galway have some accuracy to improve on too, although Shefflin also declared himself satisfied with the performance of championship debutants Cianan Fahy and Evan Niland, both playing wing forward, Leaving Cert student Gavin Lee also coming off the bench to replace Niland, with Jack Hastings also debuting off the bench in place on Brian Concannon.

Back in 2019, the year after losing the All-Ireland final to Limerick by a point, Galway also drew with Wexford in one their games in the Leinster round-robin and it came back to haunt them.

Galway were also the defending Leinster champions, but were eliminated in controversial circumstances in Round 5 and finished fourth in the province, despite having the same number of points (five) as Dublin and Leinster finalists Kilkenny and Wexford.

It came down to scoring difference and Galway were out.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics