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No Sheff' whets Offaly appetite

BY now, the entire sporting galaxy stretching from Venus (Williams) to Neptune (Stadium) knows that another shooting star (Henry Shefflin) will not be dazzling all-comers in O'Connor Park this Sunday.

Which is just as well for the Offaly hurlers who, back on terra firma, have suffered a total eclipse of their rearguard ever since the celestial Shefflin descended into our senior midst in the summer of 1999.

With King Henry's appearance record of 62 consecutive senior starts destined to end this Sunday, it got us thinking back to a time when he wasn't worth the earth, moon and stars to the Cats.

OMEN

When was the last time the currently stricken nine-time All-Ireland winner didn't start a Championship match? The 1998 All-Ireland final. Who were the Cats playing? Offaly. Who won? Hmmm. Is this a possible omen that history (sans Shefflin) is about to repeat itself?

Steady on. That '98 decider also happens to be the last time Brian Cody wasn't patrolling the line for a Kilkenny SHC fixture. Now if Cody were still sidelined by his recent heart surgery, we might be inclined to believe that this was too much of a coincidence and that logic was, indeed, about to be turned on its head this weekend.

But since the most decorated manager of all time has recently resumed training ground command in Nowlan Park, we simply can't see it happening.

Whatever about the anticipated result/rout, what is intriguing is to measure exactly how Kilkenny have fared against Offaly since the all-conquering Cody/Shefflin axis first locked hurls with the Faithful.

It makes for scary reading if you happen to hail from Birr. In eight SHC encounters between 1999 and the most recent, in 2008, Kilkenny have won by a combined margin of 118 points. That averages out at 14.75 points per game.

Only once have Offaly kept the final deficit to single digits (losing by nine in 2002), although maybe that's only because the game was moved out of Leinster, to Semple Stadium.

This weekend, buoyed by home advantage, they will surely avoid a calamitous repeat of 2005 when they lost by – wait for it – 31 points. They will also presume, or pray, that Shefflin's absence reduces the damage; he has scored 5-66 in his eight SHC ties with Offaly, averaging out at just over 10 points per game.


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