Our mounting injury list of late – capped last week by the season-ending cruciate injury picked up by Tommy Conroy on Sigerson duty for NUIG – has been a growing concern for us in these early weeks of the new inter-county season. James Horan’s upbeat news on player availability ahead of the Dublin game comes, then, as a major relief.
The manager was speaking at a press event last night and Michael Gallagher has a report on what he had to say at it in the Mayo News – that’s here.
Word was going round since Sunday that, although he was stretchered from the field at St Tiernach’s Park, Eoghan McLaughlin’s injury didn’t appear to be as bad as was first feared. James confirmed this last night, saying that it “wasn’t as serious as it looked” and that the marauding wing-back was likely to be out for three to four weeks. That means he’s almost certain to miss the Dublin match but could be back for the Armagh one. We’ll take that.
It was when James got around to likely reinforcements for the Dublin match on Saturday week that the news turned really positive. All-Star midfielder Mattie Ruane – having served his über-draconian two-match suspension – is eligible for selection once again and it looks as if two-time Young Footballer of the Year Oisín Mullin will be available for Croke Park too.
The good news doesn’t stop there because Enda Hession – like Oisín, out so far this year with an unspecified injury – will also be available. So too will James Carr – who missed the opening two League rounds with a knock of some sorts – and Jack Carney, fresh from his MOTM performance at Croke Park with Kilmeena last Sunday.
James also – as he’d done after the Donegal game – name-checked defender David McBrien and attacker Mark Moran, both of whom, he said, were back training after long-term injuries. Somewhat intriguingly, the manager added in relation to this duo that “it’s very interesting to see the progress they’re making.”
It’s not, however, solely in relation to up and coming players that the news is upbeat. There are positive bulletins too about three players at the other end of the spectrum in terms of big-day experience.
Brendan Harrison’s return to the fray this year – looking bigger, fitter and more commanding – has been a real boost for us. It was a worry, then, to see him hobble off at Clones and the concern was that the Aghamore man had picked up an injury that could once again consign him to the sidelines.
Not so, said James, who classified the knock as just a “niggle” and said that Brendan is “moving well now.” Hopefully that means he’ll be okay for Croke Park: as Billy Joe pointed out in the post-game podcast at St Tiernach’s Park, Brendan needs a run of games now to get him back in the groove ahead of summer. All the more so if we’re looking to blood one of the younger lads – such as Rory Brickenden or Donnacha McHugh – in the full-back line alongside him and Padraig O’Hora.
The second experienced player mentioned by James was Kevin McLoughlin. There was some idle chatter in recent weeks when the Knockmore man didn’t rejoin the panel straight away this year as to whetherr or not he’d be back at all. The reason given last night – the need for a short break after fifteen straight years on the road – made perfect sense.
Kevin returned to training this week and James expects him to be ready for action fairly soon, noting the example of Lee Keegan who, despite only just being back a few weeks, put in a storming display for us the last day. As James observed, return-to-play timelines can be short nowadays so I think we can expect to see Kevin’s name on the match-day 26 soon enough.
Finally, on a night suffused with good news, came some positive words about Cillian O’Connor’s situation. The all-time top scorer in the Championship has been out since rupturing his Achilles tendon in our final League match in June last year but his return to the fray now appears to be drawing near.
While James, understandably, didn’t want to be definitive about when we might expect to see the Ballintubber man back on the field, he did confirm that next month’s match against Kerry was now the target. He cautioned, however, that this date could move and that it might be “a week before or a week or two after.” What seems certain, though, is that Cillian will be back in the saddle well ahead of the Galway game at the end of April, which is just the news supporters want to hear.
Overall, then, developments with player availability appear to be looking up. It would be great to have Tommy back as well – and it was tough to see that clip of him on crutches at NUIG’s Sigerson semi-final game last night – but, sadly, that ship has now sailed for this year. Last night’s update from James shows, though, that, despite the hammer-blow that Tommy’s loss represents, we’ve more than a few reasons to be cheerful this morning on the injury front. That certainly makes for a welcome change.