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Shefflin-less contest 'weird' prospect


Lester Ryan. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Lester Ryan. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Lester Ryan. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

THERE won't be any Henry Shefflin on Sunday in Portlaoise. There might, if positive reports from Kilkenny training are to go on, be – in some capacity – Michael Fennelly. Jackie Tyrrell's well-being or otherwise won't be confirmed until Brian Cody announces his team tonight.

Either way, Dublin won't quite face the full Kilkenny battalion, even if they're unlikely to be too severely weakened.

Against that, surely Anthony Daly's most significant victory as Dublin manager came in the 2011 League final when Kilkenny were without Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Michael Fennelly and Richie Power.

"I think it actually might have affected them worse two or three years ago, when they might have had a better team in some way," Daly reckons. "But these new fellas ... fellas like (Kieran) Joyce, Lester Ryan – and I don't mean to say 'new' because he's around so long now – but Paul Murphy ... he's in there driving it on another level."

Even since last year – an All-Ireland-winning season, though the route wasn't always smooth – Brian Cody has sought improvement.

Eoin Murphy has usurped David Herity in goals. Lester Ryan (pictured) is their 'find' of the season, sufficiently consistent that Michael Fennelly was experimented with at centre-forward in the League final, at least partly in order to preserve the Ryan/Michael Rice axis.

And if he can avoid further injury, Walter Walsh – the unlikely star of last year's All-Ireland final replay – is sure to have a big say in Kilkenny's season, boasting – as he does – all the physical attributes to cut a terrifying dash this year.

"It's more the system they're coming into as well," says Daly of the deliberate evolution of the Kilkenny team and, specifically, the standard at which those new players are hurling when arriving into the side. "There is no rushing five or six of them in at the same time. They have to come and earn their place on merit. And probably from the period in around the age of 21 to 23, they really develop a whole pile at that age.

"You don't see too many of them coming straight in at 20 or 21 ... the odd one, yeah, if he has the physique. But fellas without the physique, they go in there and are given time to develop and earn their crust. You come into that sort of system. You might be an exceptional player for another county with the type of skills you have, but not if you're not their type of player."

Daly does, however, admit that it will be "weird" managing against a Shefflin-less Kilkenny for the very first time, against whom he played in the current Hurler of the Year's debut season. "It will be weird for me a little bit anyway," he concedes.

"I played against him in the All-Ireland semi-final in '99 and through my three years as manager of Clare. And in all that time, he has been an ever-present."