WATERFORD hurling boss Michael Ryan believes they have enough good free-takers to compensate for losing Pauric Mahony for the championship but admitted that it is still a big blow.
The Ballygunner youngster has become the Deise's main man with placed balls in the past two seasons, even though he only joined the county seniors last year from the minor ranks.
He scored 0-20 in two Munster championship games last summer -- 0-13 in the heavy loss to Tipperary, and another 0-7 in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Galway. But the talented young wing-forward had groin surgery last weekend which will keep him out for the summer, a massive blow ahead of the championship clash with Clare in Thurles on June 17.
"Pauric's been suffering with this groin problem for a good while and they thought he'd be able to get through the season with it, but unfortunately not," Ryan said.
Despite the problem, Mahony, whose older brother Phillip is also a Waterford senior, played in all of the team's Allianz League games this year and also played a key role for University College Cork in their Fitzgibbon Cup victory.
"He will be a loss, no doubt," Ryan said. "But we have several other good free-takers like Maurice Shanahan and Eoin Kelly to cover that area. Gavin O'Brien is a good free-taker as well."
Ryan's decision to bring Kelly back into the fold late in the season, after dropping him off the panel for fitness reasons, could now prove particularly useful.
Kelly is a metronomic free-taker and he showed good form for his club in the first round of the championship last weekend, scoring a spectacular goal for Passage in their narrow victory over Ballyduff.
Shanahan also showed cracking form last weekend, shooting 1-12 in Lismore's opening-round victory over Dungarvan.
Even without Mahony, defending county champions Ballygunner beat Abbeyside by five points, and there were victories too for Fourmilewater and De La Salle.
One good bit of news was the return to club action last weekend of Richie Foley, who has not played any competitive hurling since last winter.
Wayne Hutchinson is another player who has rejoined the panel after recovering to full fitness since the end of the NHL.