Tipp and Kilkenny square up in eagerly anticipated re-match

They served up one of the geatest All-Ireland Hurling Finals in living memory 23 weeks ago and the re-match between Tipperary and Kilkenny, the two best teams in the country, should give the National Hurling League the perfect start when the counties meet at Semple Stadium at 7.30 on Saturday evening.

They served up one of the geatest All-Ireland Hurling Finals in living memory 23 weeks ago and the re-match between Tipperary and Kilkenny, the two best teams in the country, should give the National Hurling League the perfect start when the counties meet at Semple Stadium at 7.30 on Saturday evening.

It may be early in the year but with Kilkenny still hurt by the shattering of their All-Ireland five in-a-row dream last September, and Tipp eager to impress under new manager Declan Ryan, both sides will be anxious to lay down an early season marker.

Kilkenny have already been installed as slight favourites to regain the McCarthy Cup this year and Declan Ryan acknowledges that they are some weeks ahead of his team in their preparations.

However he has also paid tribute to the "super effort" that his players are putting in during their pre-season training.

Tipp will be without a few regulars on Saturday. Seamus Callanan injured his collarbone while playing for Limerick IT in the Fitzgibbon Cup and is expected to be sidelined for the next eight weeks, which means that he'll miss most of the League campaign.

Lar Corbett has a foot injury but should be available within a week or two while a new addition to the panel, Thurles Sarsfields' Stephen Lillis, had the misfortune to break his hand in a challenge against Wexford.

The vice-captain, Conor O'Mahony is expected to lead the team on Saturday with the captain, Eoin Kelly, getting married this Friday. They are also hoping that all their players involved in the Fitzgibbon Cup this week will emerge unscathed.

Kilkenny will be without long-term injury victims Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson while Richie Power, who underwent minor hip surgery recently, will also be unavailable.

Tipp's preparations were hampered last weekend when a planned challenge against UCC was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch. Declan Ryan says he has no doubt that Kilkenny will come to Thurles with all guns blazing, and it remains to be be seen how his team will handle that challenge. He says he'll be very interested in his side's performance and the way they go about their business.

He wants his team to be as competitive as possible in a division in which he feels there will be no easy matches, and they will also look at a few new players.

The teams were also scheduled to meet in the League opener this time 12 months ago but twice the match fell victim to the Big Freeze, before Tipp beat The Cats when they eventually met in early March. The weather forecast indicates that there should be no false starts this week and a big attendance is expected at the Stadium.

The team is expected to be named tonight, Wednesday.

Tipp will be out again the following Saturday (19th) when they play Dublin in Croke Park in another evening match.