Foley set for shock Limerick return
MARK Foley looks set for a sensational return to the Limerick hurling panel.
The county's most capped championship hurler, with 47 appearances under his belt, has not yet linked up with Donal O'Grady's squad but is understood to be working on an individual training programme.
Foley (35) has captained the team in two separate spells but did not feature during the ill-fated 2010 campaign, following the bitter dispute with former manager Justin McCarthy.
But McCarthy's departure and the arrival of O'Grady opened up the possibility of a return for Foley, who last played championship hurling against Tipperary in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final.
Sources close to the camp have confirmed that other long-serving stars Donie Ryan and Mike O'Brien are involved and it is believed that the door remains open to Adare clubman Foley.
The two-time All Star defender may not be viewed as a 70-minute hurler by O'Grady, but he could play a part as an impact sub and as a figure for younger players to look up to.
O'Grady has been preparing for the start of the National Hurling League and within the last nine days Limerick have played three challenge matches, against Kerry, UCC and Wexford.
Last Sunday in Mallow, the Treaty men beat Wexford 2-18 to 3-11. O'Grady was boosted by the displays of dual stars Stephen Lucey and James Ryan, both of whom concentrated exclusively on football last season following the spat with McCarthy.
Na Piarsaigh's Kevin Downes (19) has been making waves early in the new year -- he starred for Ard Scoil Ris in their march to Harty Cup glory last year.
Overall, there seem to be plenty of positives as Limerick look to bounce back from the off-field problems which have dogged them in recent seasons.
Tipperary's James Woodlock is another player who has made a long-awaited return. Woodlock saw his first competitive action in 15 months last Sunday when he appeared as a half-time substitute in Tipp's Waterford Crystal Cup preliminary-round defeat to Waterford IT in Clonmel.
A solid 35 minutes provided a massive confidence boost to Woodlock, who suffered a broken fibula and tibia in his right leg at the end of the 2009 county senior hurling final.
But a tortuous period of recovery and rehabilitation has paid off for the dynamic midfielder, whose return was greeted by a huge round of applause when he donned the No 17 jersey last Sunday.
Woodlock smiled: "I didn't think I'd be back this early, but Declan (Ryan) asked me the other night would I be able for a match on Sunday. I said no at the start of training but towards the end I was feeling good so I said I'd be able for something. I got the half in and I'm happy with that."
Pins, screws and a metal bar were inserted in Woodlock's leg during the surgery which followed his injury.
The bar still remains and he feels some minor pain after training and matches, but Woodlock said: "It feels good. I feel a small bit (of pain) but it's not too bad. There's a bar in there still -- that's not coming out out so I'm forgetting about that and driving on."
Woodlock was out of work for eight months before returning to a temporary office job. But it was all part of the rehabilitation process and on the family farm he was back breaking in horses last October, a year after his world was turned upside down.
He explained: "Riding the horses builds up the muscle in the legs quicker than anything. Then there was the bit of running and some racketball, twisting and turning.
"I wasn't going to stop. We only have a few years at it so I'll keep going as long as I can. I missed all of last year, that was a huge year and I missed my club as well." And so, while new boss Ryan's Tipp reign began on a low-key note last Sunday, with only a handful of players involved who featured against Kilkenny last September, it was one of the biggest days of Woodlock's life.
He said: "Some of the lads mightn't have fancied coming out here playing in muck and s**t but I did. I had such a long time out and I was looking forward to getting back in there."