Shefflin void boosts Galway shorn of Portumna stars
A MUCH-anticipated early rematch between the hurlers of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Portumna, playing for their respective counties in the National Hurling League, is not going to happen.
While most of Ballyhale's All-Ireland club championship-winning stars returned to Kilkenny training this week, Portumna's large inter-county contingent are not yet back training with Galway.
They travelled to Madrid for a weekend team break three days after Ballyhale dashed their hopes of becoming the first side to win three club All-Irelands in a row and their players are not expected to return to county training until Tuesday.
But Galway will be consoled that they won't have to face Henry Shefflin at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
"Henry has been on the road a lot longer than many of our players so we will give him another few weeks' break," Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty revealed yesterday.
But he confirmed that the rest of Ballyhale's county players, including James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, TJ and Eoin Reid and Michael Fennelly, returned to county training this week, which means they will all be available for selection when Kilkenny pick their team after training tonight.
Apart from Shefflin, the Cats will also noticeably be without brilliant defender JJ Delaney, as he is still carrying the shoulder injury that ruled him out of their last game against Dublin.
Kilkenny are also still monitoring the fitness of Richie Power and Michael Rice, who picked up knocks last weekend.
The Cats, unusually, lost two league games on the trot this season, to Cork and Tipperary, but Fogarty scotched any slim hopes that their remaining league opponents -- Galway, Limerick and Waterford -- may harbour that the All-Ireland champions might now ease their foot off the league pedal.
"To be honest, we never go into the league thinking about the final, that's not our approach, which is just to take every game as it comes," Fogarty said. "Yes, we have been beaten twice this season but no one knows what is going to happen in the coming weeks.
"In theory, every team could be beaten twice by the end of it but, in any case, we honestly don't think about the league that way.
"Nothing will change in our approach, we just concentrate on each league game as it comes, go out to win it and see where we end up.
"It may sound strange but we don't ever go out to win the league, we go out to play the best we can in every game in it and use it to prepare for the championship, and that won't change."