MICHAEL RICE still faces an uncertain inter-county future as he continues to rehabilitate from the shattered index finger on his right hand, sustained in controversial circumstances in last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody admitted yesterday that he was no more than "hopeful" that Rice would return to hurling over the next few months. With Henry Shefflin sidelined and Walter Walsh, one of the stars of last year's All- Ireland final replay against Galway, suffering from tendonitis in both knees, Kilkenny will be without up to seven players for the start of the league next week.
"We'd be hoping Michael Rice would get back," said Cody.
"Obviously it's a long time since last August. He is still not right, he has put in savage work since that time to try and get himself right but we are hoping."
TJ Reid will also miss the league as he recovers from a bad injury sustained in the All- Ireland final replay that left his kneecap shattered from a blow that also caused anger in Kilkenny.
Shefflin is to revisit his surgeon next month for an assessment on the broken bone in his foot but the likelihood is that he won't add to his league appearance tally, which stands at just six from Kilkenny's last 50 games in the competition.
"We have a lot of injuries really. Henry obviously is out of the equation for quite a while. TJ's gone since the All- Ireland replay and is still out. We're targeting May probably for him to be back," said Cody.
"Cillian Buckley had a hip operation and is getting closer; he'll be a few weeks. Richie Doyle had a hip operation; he's going to be a couple of months. Walter Walsh has tendonitis in both knees.
We don't know yet to be honest how bad and that's enough to keep us going.
"Eoin Larkin has ongoing groin difficulties but it's just a question of managing them and taking it as it comes."
Kilkenny's opening game is against Galway in Pearse Stadium, Salthill on Sunday week.