KERRY hurling boss Tom Howard is sweating on the fitness of star wing-back Tommy Barrett ahead of this Saturday's Christy Ring Cup opener with Down (Newry, 2.30pm).
Barrett, who has been a constant presence in the defence since Clare native Howard assumed the reins in the Kingdom, picked up a CV joint injury (the CV joint is what connects the ribs to the spine) in a club game and was rated as having a fifty / fifty chance of being fit in time for this weekend's game by his manager.
"He's a worry and it'll be touch and go whether he'd be available or not," he confirmed to The Kerryman.
Howard will also hope that Tom Murnane, who hasn't trained much since picking up a back injury before the last league game against Derry, will be fit enough and sharp enough to take to the field in Pairc Esler.
Howard's hand has been been strengthened since the end of the league by the return to the panel of Ally O'Connor, a former county championship winning captain with Ballyduff, and the return from injury of John Egan, who damaged his hamstring in the game with Wicklow in Tralee.
"He's [Egan] in full training," Howard confirmed.
"He went flat out the last night – fingers crossed, legs crossed, that John will come through. The problem is he's been injured so much that he's never got a real run at it. John needs challenge games and game time."
New recruit Stephen Page, a former Galway Under 21 star, is another player in the mix, although probably not to start on Saturday.
"We have lots of lads that have given us five or six months who deserve our loyalty and will get our loyalty," Howard commented.
"But we will give time to Stephen over the next couple of games and it will be up to Stephen to make a contribution or not. I don't know what Stephen can do in a Kerry jersey.
"I hope he can be another Shane Brick, and if he is half as good as Shane Brick he will be a great player. He is sharp, fast and he likes to score goals, he is exactly the type of young fellow you would like."
Kerry team (possible): Bernard Rochford, Patrick O'Keeffe, Liam Boyle, Paud Costello, Tommy Barrett, Tom Murnane, Darragh O'Connell, John Griffin, Darren Dineen, Willie O'Dwyer, Gary O'Brien, Brendan O'Leary, Daniel Collins, Aidan Boyle, Shane Nolan