OFFALY hurling manager Brian Whelahan has been given a massive boost ahead of their upcoming league campaign with the news that Rory Hanniffy is to commit for a 14th season.
The Birr clubman, who made his league debut for Offaly against Galway back in 2001, had spent the winter away from the panel, but is expected to resume training before the end of this month. He won't be available for Sunday's league opener against neighbours Laois, but Whelahan is delighted to have his fellow clubman back involved once more.
"Rory Hanniffy hasn't rejoined the panel as of yet, but we are looking forward to his return," said Whelahan. "He probably won't be available for the early stages of the year, so from our point of view, it is very much backs to the wall."
While news of Hanniffy's return is a welcome lift to the panel, Whelahan is also dealing with a mounting injury list. Last year's captain David Kenny, Shane Dooley and Ciaran Slevin are not expected to make a return until the latter stages of the league, while Shinrone's Derek Morkan has been ruled out of the entire league campaign with a shoulder injury.
The injuries to Kenny, Dooley and Slevin have carried over from last year and all three are on the road back to full fitness, but as Whelahan explains, the trio are some time away from being in the frame for selection.
"David is back working on his injury, but it is going to be a long process," Whelahan added. "We would be hoping he would make a game or two at the tail end of it. It is very frustrating for David. He has been the Offaly captain for the last few years and he is a very committed player. He is doing everything he can.
"Shane is back doing a bit with us, but he has seen no game time with us. We can't rush him.
"Ciaran hasn't done any training with us yet. He has had a serious enough injury for the last few years and a scan revealed that he had a split tendon in the knee. He is going to have to do a lot of work himself. He is only getting to a position now where the treatment is going to allow him to do a bit of training now. That will be another long process."
Sunday will see Whelahan lead Offaly into the first round of the league against Laois and he also has to deal with the unavailability of Ger Healion (holidays) and James Rigney (knee) for that game as well as the trip to Wexford a week later.
Laois are also struggling with injuries, while they have also confirmed that forward Zane Keenan is no longer part of the panel.