TIPPERARY manager Liam Sheedy conceded yesterday that he may have to use forward star Eoin Kelly sparingly again this year because of his back problem.
"It is far too early yet to say whether or not Eoin can play a significant part for us during the National League," Sheedy said.
"The early indicators are that his back is in a better condition than this time last year, but just how much he can play is all down to it and we haven't done enough yet to determine exactly how good it is."
Sheedy noticeably gave Kelly an extended rest this time last year, allowing him a long period off to rest up and work his way back slowly from a prolapsed disc.
After rebuilding his fitness, working separately with physios and specialists on what fitness experts now term 'pre-hab', Kelly rejoined the county panel last March but still did only light training and didn't play a minute of League hurling.
He was named in Sheedy's squad for Tipperary's epic National League final with Kilkenny, but didn't come off the bench and his first game of the season was Tipp's Munster championship opener against Cork when he scored 0-5.
The Mullinahone star scored 1-3 before injury forced him off prematurely in the Munster final against Waterford and underlined his value again by scoring 0-13 against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, despite being short of full fitness.
Tipperary open their National League campaign with an eagerly awaited floodlit opener against the Cats in Thurles on February 20, but Sheedy's comments indicate that Kelly's participation in that game is doubtful, and that his League participation could again be deliberately light to maximise his form come championship time.
The Munster champions were fortunate that the blistering form of Lar Corbett last season, which won him an All Star, was enough to compensate for Kelly's long absence.
Kelly (28) who once won an All-Ireland colleges title with St Kieran's Kilkenny, is a five-time All Star and was 'Young Player of the Year' for two years running in the early part of the last decade.
And many believe that a fully fit Kelly will be vital if Tipperary are to go one step further this season in both the League and All-Ireland championship.
The Premier County open their competitive season with a Waterford Crystal match against Clare, under lights, in Borrisleigh next Tuesday and Sheedy admitted that they have done little or no training yet.
"We are only back from our team holiday (San Diego) a week and we only got back on the field in the past few days," he said.
Sheedy indicated that he will use Munster's secondary competition to look at players and is boosted by the fact that all of his players, including veteran goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, have committed for another season.
In his third year in charge, Sheedy has made minimal changes to his squad. Eamonn Buckley, Gerry Kennedy, Tony Scroope and Darragh Egan are no longer included and there are just four newcomers in John O'Neill (Clonoulty), Jody Brennan (Upperchurch), David Young (Toomevara) and Michael Heffernan (Nenagh).