With our 2017 FBD League campaign now safely squared away, thoughts can begin to turn to our opening match in this year’s National Football League. Monaghan rock into town on Saturday night week (4th February) with throw-in at MacHale Park set for 7pm that evening.
We’ve done okay against the Farney lads in recent years. Last March we came out on top in that must-win encounter up in Clones – a game Stephen Rochford later described as one of the real pressure matches (or words to that effect) of his first year in the hot seat – while the previous March we ended up giving them a right spanking at MacHale Park after their indiscipline saw them getting two players ordered off. A three-in-a-row over Malachy O’Rourke’s charges would represent the perfect start from our perspective to this League campaign.
Last year our less than stellar opening to the spring series wasn’t help by the large list of players either injured or unavailable to line out. Twelve months on, we appear to be in better fettle heading into the start of the League.
We’re not without problems in this respect, though, as this piece in the Mayo News shows. Despite this, I still make it that the bulk of the team that lined out for us in last October’s All-Ireland final replay should be available to play on Saturday week. Let’s go through the list.
Definitely out for the League opener are Chris Barrett, Michael Hall, Brendan Harrison and Ger Cafferkey. The first two are, according to that Mayo News report, out for the medium-term while Brendan Harrison should be back in action at some point next month. Ger is scheduled to return to the fray in early March but how much League action he sees is anyone’s guess.
Unlikely to feature on Saturday week are loved-up duo Alan Dillon and Barry Moran. Both are just back off their respective honeymoons and are, no doubt, knee-deep in unwrapping presents and the like right now.
That Mayo News piece says that Aidan and Seamus O’Shea, Caolan Crowe, Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O’Connor are all injury doubts. Diarmuid did, though, line out for DCU in the Sigerson yesterday so it’s likely he will be okay to feature.
As others have already said, though, I’d be reluctant to play the two-time Young Footballer of the Year too much this spring. He carried us for the early rounds of the League last year and then played a very prominent part in the U21s’ march to glory but once he got that kick in the leg in the qualifiers against Kildare he was never right again for the remainder of our championship run. If it were me (and it’s plainly not) I’d be using him sparingly enough over the next while.
Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane may or may not be available, depending on how Westport get on in their All-Ireland club IFC semi-final next Sunday. Their Kerry opponents, Kenmare, are priced at 1/5 to win that one so you’d have to think it’s likely the two lads will be freed up to line out for the county. For now, though, all of their focus will be, as it should be, on Ennis next Sunday.
Aside from the shoal of newbies who got blooded in the FBD, the only other player who might possibly be in the running for county duty on Saturday week is Adam Gallagher. The Mayo Gaels player – who last lined out for the county in our opening League match two years ago, down in Killarney against Kerry – has been cutting a dash for NUIG since the start of the year and he may well have done enough to earn himself a recall to the panel.
So, then, adding all that together, I make it that ten of the fifteen who lined out in the All-Ireland final replay should be available for selection to play Monaghan. These are Robbie Hennelly, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan, Tom Parsons, Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran. The two O’Sheas may or may not be fit to start, Diarmuid O’Connor ditto while Lee may, as we just discussed, continue to be club-tied. Brendan Harrison is the only starter from last October who is definitely ruled out through injury.
In addition, of the six subs used last October three – David Clarke, Stephen Coen and Conor O’Shea – should be good to go while the other three – Chris Barrett, Alan Dillon and Barry Moran – won’t be.
That makes thirteen of the players (two of whom are goalkeepers) who saw action in last year’s All-Ireland final (fourteen, if you add in Evan Regan, who came off the bench in the drawn game) okay to play against Monaghan on Saturday week. Mix in with that lot a few of the fringe lads who did well in the FBD and that makes it a healthy enough pick for Stephen Rochford and his colleagues to decide on for our first competitive test in 2017.