By Micil Glennon
Offaly v Kilkenny, Tullamore, 2pm
It has been a long winter for Offaly with All-Ireland champions Kilkenny looming large on the horizon.
And the Cats accomplishment of winning the Allianz League without their two main men – Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin – bodes badly for Offaly for the O'Connor Park encounter.
The Faithful County had a mixed league, winning three from five, losing to both Dublin and Limerick.
You have to go back to 1995 for the last time that Offaly beat the Cats in a Leinster tie and making a game out of it will be the goal for the home side.
Former Offaly boss and RTÉ.ie columnist Joe Dooley said: “Being realistic about it, with the form that Kilkenny are showing, if Offaly are able to make a match of it a lot of people will be satisfied.
"Knowing the players and the management they won’t be satisfied with a performance, they’ll have to be going out to win.”
Manager Ollie Baker hands a Championship debut to under-21 corner-forward Sean Cleary of Shinrone, while Seir Kieran’s Dermot Mooney and Kilcormac/Killoughey’s Ciaran Slevin make their first Championship starts.
Kilkenny, after two defeats in a row at the start of the campaign, went on to lift the Dr Croke Cup.
And it’s scary when you think that the All-Ireland champions don’t really go all out in that competition.
While Kilkenny will be without their main man, Shefflin, that is little comfort when you consider that the nine-time All-Ireland winner will be replaced by someone just as determined to impress his boss.
The missing talisman told RTÉ Sport: "Some of the lads will get opportunities at the weekend, some of them Championship newcomers. We all have to start somewhere and that is the basis of Kilkenny’s strength.
“We will know on Sunday when Offaly put it up to us, which I’ve no doubt they will, what way the lads react will tell us how we are set up for the Championship.”
Richie Power returns to the Cats line-up at No 11 to replace the injured Michael Fennelly.
TJ Reid makes his first appearance since last year’s All-Ireland win and will play alongside Power in the half-forward line. Cillian Buckley drops to the bench.
If Kilkenny can keep tabs on Shane Dooley then the home side are really going to struggle to keep in touch.
Offaly will be somewhat boosted by a fantastic U-21 win over Laois on Wednesday night and the fact that it’s on home ground.
The secret to staying in touch is to stop Kilkenny getting early goals, it won’t be easy.
Offaly: James Dempsey, Chris McDonald, David Kenny (c), Kevin Brady, Rory Hanniffy, Ger Healion, Cathal Parlon, Conor Mahon, Dermot Mooney, Colin Egan, Brian Carroll, Ciaran Slevin, Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Sean Cleary.
Kilkenny: Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy. JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrell; Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Kieran Joyce; Lester Ryan, Michael Rice; TJ Reid, Richie Power; Eoin Larkin; Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty
Live television coverage of Offaly v Kilkenny from 13:30 on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage of all the day’s action featuring Limerick v Tipperary from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).