Henry Shefflin believes the GAA has missed a trick in delaying the draw for the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers until next week, writes Brendan O’Brien.
The shock detours taken by Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford have made this back door route the most demanding ever but a championship energised by the re-emergence of Wexford and Cork and by the early menace of Galway will now retreat into neutral gear with only Laois and Carlow in the diary this weekend.
“Everyone thought it (the draw) was today,” said Shefflin at the launch of Centra’s #WeAreHurling campaign yesterday. “Everyone was really looking forward to it since Kilkenny lost, since Tipperary lost … So it would be great for the buzz of the championship to have had it today.
“It’s kind of going to peter out a bit come the end of this week and then it will pick up again next week ahead of the Leinster final.
“I would have liked it to have taken place and the teams would probably like to know who they are playing as well.”
Shefflin shares some of the concerns expressed in relation to Kilkenny.
Brian Cody’s men are, he believes, lacking in confidence after consecutive defeats to Wexford and they need the likes of Michael Fennelly and Padraig Walsh fully fit and available.
Cody’s Kilkenny have been questioned before but the conveyor belt is not churning out the volume of young talent it once was and it was striking that Shefflin felt the need to highlight the importance of an U21 crop that faces Westmeath in a provincial semi-final tomorrow.
“You can imagine Brian sitting down on the Monday: ‘This lad’s coming, that lad’s coming’. He hasn’t had that benefit now the last while. Like life in general it goes in cycles but at the moment we’re struggling a bit for those players coming through.”
Which brings us back to Fennelly.
Few players have been so tormented by injury as the powerful Ballyhale Shamrocks midfielder who was already managing a long-standing back issue when he tore an Achilles tendon in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Waterford.
Fennelly played a club game over four weeks ago but aggravated the Achilles shortly after and, having missed the Leinster loss to Wexford, is still waiting for the inflammation to settle down. A return in time for the opening qualifier on Saturday week looks like being nip and tuck.
“I’d be under pressure,” he explained. “It’s a race against time alright. I’m just waiting for it to settle and to get back training and to see what happens from there. I’m not really putting any (dates on it). We just don’t really know with it.”
Meanwhile, Podge Collins has declared that he will be “one hundred per cent” fit and ready to go for Clare when they face Cork in the Munster final on July 9 in Thurles.
The former dual county player “chipped a bone in my foot” recently but is hopeful of returning to training this week.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.