Shefflin expecting a‘serious test’ in Wexford

WEXFORD in Wexford Park isn’t the fixture Henry Shefflin would have chosen for Kilkenny’s championship bow this summer, but the former hurler of the year has nonetheless welcomed the decision to playSaturday week’s fixture away from Croke Park.

The counties have traditionally done summer battle in the wide open spaces of Croke Park, but Wexford entered a home and away agreement with a number of counties last year and came up trumps in the toss with the Cats.

That arrangement kicks into place now that Colm Bonnar’s side accounted for Antrim last Sunday and will form part of an attractive double-header for GAA followers in the Model County. Leinster Council chiefs yesterday confirmed that the Wexford footballers will entertain Westmeath at 5pm on Saturday week in a curtain-raiser to the hurling clash.

The decision means Kilkenny’s wait for a provincial senior hurling game at Nowlan Park will stretch to anincredible nine years and counting come 2012. Brian Cody’s players have togged out in Mullingar, Portlaoise and Tullamore since their home defeat of Dublin in 2003 and Shefflin recalled their humdinger with Galway at O’Connor Park two years ago with particular delight.

“Everyone would like to play in Croke Park all the time but it can be a bit surreal there sometimes if there isn’t a big enough crowd,” he said at the launch of Puma’s King Finale boot in Dublin yesterday.

“That evening we played Galway in Tullamore was a great day. A good crowd in a smaller venue makes for a far better atmosphere so it is probably no harm. You need the crowds in Croke Park to get the atmosphere.”

Wexford haven’t beaten Kilkenny in Leinster since Michael Jacob’s last-minute goal did the trick at the same semi-final stage in 2004 but Shefflin expects Kilkenny will “find out some of our credentials” at the Clonard venue on June 11.

“I just saw a bit of the Antrim game on the news. It was obviously a very good second-half performance. We know it is going to be a serious test for us going down there. They have been in good form the last month-and-a-half to two months.

“They have beaten Cork, drawn with Tipp and had a very good win against Antrim so, from that point of view, they will be a serious test down there. I have played down there with my club and it is always a very hard place to go with passionate supporters.”

What part Shefflin will play remains to be seen, although he appeared in his first club game for Ballyhale Shamrocks at the weekend since his cruciate injury and claimed six points in the win against Fenians.

“It went alright. It’s still slow progress. I got a challenge game under my belt and a club match as well so I am happy enough with the way things are going but it is still one day at a time. That is the way I am approaching it.

“The one good thing is that there haven’t been any setbacks and that is a positive. Once you wake up okay the next morning you are happy enough. I have been a bit stiff and a bit sore but that is part and parcel of it.”

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