THIRD round games in the Kilkenny senior and intermediate hurling leagues that could potentially put a real shape on the tables will be played this weekend, and on Sunday the recently crowned National League champions will be in action in a challenge match.
The action will be thick and fast on Friday and Saturday when the 12 senior and intermediate matches will be decided.
Then on Sunday (6.30pm) in Clara, Offaly, All-Ireland champions Kilkenny will play the midlanders in a friendly to mark the offical opening of extensive new facilities by the local club.
After this weekend the St Canice’s (Kilkenny) Credit Union (senior) and Michael Lyng Motors (intermediate) sponsored competitions will shut down until after the Leinster championship.
The Cats opening game, a semi-final, is on June 23 in Portlaois against the winners from the Dublin, Laois and Carlow group.
The two remaining rounds in the club events have been pencilled in after the Leinster final on the weekends of July 14/15 and July 20/21, after which the League and Shield finalists will be known.
There is a possibility that eight times All-Ireland medal winner, Henry Shefflin, could play some part in the Offaly clash after making a return to competitive action with Ballyhale Shamrocks last weekend.
The 33-year-old will feature at some stage with Shamrocks against St Martin’s (Muckalee) on Friday in Nowlan Park, he may even start, and if everything goes well there Shefflin would probably be interested in a run out against Offaly.
The player has insisted that he will let his body, and how if feels, dictate the pace of his return. He was thrilled, as was the club, with his near 20 minute run out against Dunnamaggin on Saturday, and there was no adverse reaction afterwards.
Shefflin has been sidelined for eight months after having surgery to repair damaged ligaments in a shoulder.
As a matter of interest, the player made his return last year against Dunnamaggin after a six month lay-off following surgery to repair a cruciate ligament.
Shortly afterwards he played in a challenge match against Waterford in Tallow.
He may not be as far along the road to full fitness now as he was then. The player has insisted that he needs games to help sharpen his reflexes and to build up confidence, but any decision on the Offaly match will be measured against the primary consideration of having Shefflin ready to meet the June 23 deadline.
As things stand, All Stars Richie Power (knee cartilage) and Michael Rice (tendonitis of the knee) will be struggling to make the Leinster semi-final.
Fennelly out for 10 weeks
Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly, has no hope of playing any part in the provincial championship. The bad news from the surgeon was that the bone Fennelly broke in his ankle in the National League final against Cork will take 10 weeks to come right.
Ligaments in the ankle were also torn, but that was the least worrying part in terms of the damage done. A 10 week break would rule the powerful Ballyhale Shamrocks man out until mid-July. Cont on 15...
Fennelly would have some serious catching up to do in terms of fitness after that, so Kilkenny might have to plan without him until August at least.
Cont on 15...
By that stage the championship would have hit the All-Ireland series, if the county were still involved.
There was better news for manager, Brian Cody and fellow selectors, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty, when J.J. Delaney and Noel Hickey turned out with their clubs at the weekend.
Delaney suffered a dead leg in the League final against Cork and was forced to retire during the interval. He made a storming return against Tullaroan.
Hickey had been out of action for over a month with a hamstring strain. He played against Shamrocks. He looked a little ring rusty, but with another club match this weekend and with a month to go before the opener in Leinster he should have time to regain full fitness and be in contention for a place on the team.
Nolan faces surgery
Meanwhile, powerful O’Loughlin/Gaels utility man, Maurice Nolan, is facing a battle to save his season. He was one of the main men when the club stormed to a senior championship win in 2010, but wear and tear of a hip joint have left him facing surgery.
The 24-year-old is booked for surgery on the left hip in the Whitfield Clinic, Waterford, on May 28. The player has been told that the recovery period could be up to six months, which could wipe out the entire season on him.
The big clash in Group 1 of the senior league on Friday will be the meeting of unbeaten Shamrocks and St Martin’s. The winners will be in pole position to finish top of the table.
The Shamrocks subsequent games are against Tullaroan and Fenians (Johnstown), clashes they would be expected to win, while Martin’s will later meet Dunnamaggin and Tullaroan.
Shamrocks looked awesome at the weekend. A repeat of that form would make them firm favourites on Friday.
In Group 2, O’Loughlin Gaels and Carrickshock are the current unbeaten clubs.
The ’Shock should be able to advance their cause against struggling Dicksboro on Friday, while 24-hours later O’Loughlin’s face a sticky assignment against championship kings, James Stephens.
The upper end of the table here could have a different look about it on Saturday night, with ’Stephens creeping back into the picture.