Shields absent for opening salvos of Cork's league defence
ALL-IRELAND champions Cork will be without defensive star Michael Shields for the early rounds of the Allianz National Football League.
Most of their All-Ireland-winning squad are currently in South Africa on a team holiday and will not be back in Ireland until January 14.
But Shields (24), who has filled the All Star full-back jersey for the past two seasons, is extending the holiday to do some further travelling and is not expected home until the third round of the league at the earliest.
Even if the St Finbarr's star only misses their two opening league games he will be badly missed as both matches promise to be laden with top-class action and incident.
The double-winning Rebels open the defence of their league title with a Munster derby against their arch-rivals Kerry on February 6 and their second game is another mouthwatering clash -- against the Dubs at Croke Park on February 19.
That's part of a Saturday night floodlit double-header with the Dublin hurlers, who also face the All-Ireland champions (Tipperary) on the same evening.
Shields had a brief spell Down Under playing Australian Rules before returning to play such a pivotal role in the Cork defence and was particularly outstanding in last year's All-Ireland final against Down.
Manager Conor Counihan is expected to retain most of his All-Ireland-winning team for the new season, with Derek Kavanagh the only one who has announced his retirement so far.
Veterans like teak-tough captain Graham Canty and Nicholas Murphy are expected to stay on but it is likely they will be rested heavily during the league.
Cork's current team holiday, and the number of their players who are committed to playing for their colleges, means they will be fielding a 'development team' in this month's McGrath Cup, where they face Waterford Institute of Technology at Pairc Ui Rinn in next Sunday's opening round.
Senior selector Terry O'Neill is taking charge of their McGrath Cup team and will be aided by the county's U-21 manager John Cleary.
The Rebels are expected to use the competition to run the rule over U-21 and fringe players, including several of the county minors who also reached the All-Ireland final last September where they lost to Tyrone.