Deise boss Ryan refusing to rush back big names
WATERFORD'S early-season casualty list has been shortened ahead of Sunday's daunting Allianz Hurling League clash with Kilkenny, but they will still be without star corner-back Noel Connors due to a hamstring injury.
They shipped three goals in their defeat to Cork in the opening round and eyebrows were raised at the Decies' defensive line-up, which saw Philip Mahony and Stephen Daniels picked at corner-back.
But manager Michael Ryan says he was forced into such radical selections because four of the county's corner-backs were among their lengthy injury-list.
"We were without seven backs the last day and both of our corner-backs had never played there before," said Ryan.
"By the time the game was over, our injury list had gone up to 12, but that's what happens and you just have to get on with it."
Shane Casey and Shane Walsh, who both started in the full-forward line against Cork, picked up knocks, but Ryan is hopeful that they will be fully fit this weekend.
This year's new League structure means that teams in the top division (1A) need to win at least two games to avoid the bottom-two relegation play-off.
But Ryan insisted that, whatever happens in the coming weeks, he will not be pushed into radical action and won't rush players back from injury.
The Decies are without sharpshooter and four-time All Star John Mullane, who sought and has been given an extended break.
The new management caused some controversy by omitting Eoin Kelly from their squad, apparently on fitness grounds.
"There will be absolutely no panicking. Whatever happens, we will be sticking with the players we have at present. Training has been going very well and we're very happy with the players' attitude," Ryan stressed.
The manager said he understood that Kelly has been training on his own, "but I have not spoken to him for some time".
Ryan expects to have Shane O'Sullivan, Aidan Kearney (shoulder) and Maurice Shanahan (instep) back for the match against Kilkenny and he is hoping that Waterford's Fitzgibbon Cup-winning contingent came through last weekend's extra-time thriller unscathed.
O'Sullivan, who was missing for Waterford's clash with Cork due to a bout of 'flu, captained Mary Immaculate College in last weekend's Ryan Cup victory in a game in which Galway's Conor Cooney starred at centre-back.
O'Sullivan's nephews -- Padraic and Philip Mahony, as well as county senior team-mate Darragh Fives -- were key men in UCC's Fitzgibbon victory over Cork IT.
With the Kilkenny juggernaut fast approaching, followed by difficult matches against Tipperary, Galway (both away) and Dublin (at home), Ryan is well aware of the huge pressure that's now on his charges, but he believes that everyone in hurling's top flight is fighting for survival.
"Dublin and Tipperary have also lost already. Every game is going to be tough, but everyone is under the same pressure," he said.
"The hard fact is that one high-profile team is going to be relegated this year and we'll be doing our best to ensure it is not us."