The Birr defender returned to county training last month after reports of his retirement after 16 years of intercounty hurling proved premature.
Twice the Texaco Hurler of the Year and a four-time Allstar, the 33-year-old has been in outstanding form for Birr but has not played for the county since limping off against Wexford in last year’s Leinster final.
Despite that, the Birr man was fancied to win a start after club mate Niall Claffey suffered a hand injury that has since kept him sidelined.
Instead, Kevin Brady, who missed the defeat to Wexford last year, takes over the pivotal centre-back position. Whelahan could have been accommodated at left-half back where he played in last summer’s Leinster decider, but boss John McIntyre has handed a championship debut to 20-year old Daniel Hoctor of Shinrone, with Colm Cassidy on the far side.
Dylan Hayden, another man fresh out of his teens and who made three championship appearances last year as a sub, also makes his first competitive start in an all-Birr half-forward line, while a trio of Coolderry men fill out the furthest line upfield.
There are also some positional changes, with Ger Oakley dropping back from midfield to full-back, while Brendan Murphy moves from attack to line up alongside Michael Cordial in midfield.
Meanwhile, the Dublin hurlers have rejected suggestions that their refusal to play under an interim management team headed by county chairman John Bailey is an unacceptable show of player power.
“This has been coming to a head for the last couple of years with the departure of Kevin Fennelly and particularly with the departure of Marty Morris,” said one panel member.
“The players have collectively decided enough is enough.”
“We have drafted a letter we hope will be read out at the county board meeting during the week and, basically, all that asks for from the players is to get a manager who can pick whatever player he likes, from last year’s panel or this year’s panel, and just get on with it.”
OFFALY (SH v Kilkenny): B Mullins; B Teehan (capt), G Oakley, D Franks; D Hoctor, K Brady, C Cassidy; M Cordial, B Murphy; G Hanniffy, R Hanniffy, D Hayden; B Carroll, J Brady, D Murray.