So the winter suntans are fading fast and our first proper inter-county match of the year takes place this coming Sunday, against Roscommon in Kiltoom (throw-in 2pm). The game will most likely be our final pre-season one, as only a right thumping of the Rossies will be enough for us to make the final of this year’s FBD League.
I doubt Stephen Rochford will be losing any sleep over the coming few nights fretting about FBD points difference permutations. While an additional match in January – against those uppity Galway lads to boot – wouldn’t do any harm, the two-week gap until Monaghan roll into town for the first round of the League at the start of next month can be of equally productive use to us.
The Mayo News reports this week (here) that the experimentation we’ve seen in the first two rounds of the FBD isn’t likely to be repeated at Kiltoom on Sunday. The paper reckons that we’ll name a far stronger team for this one, with the likes of Robbie Hennelly, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran all vying for starting places.
Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane remain club-tied, though, due to Westport’s forthcoming All-Ireland club IFC semi-final. The Mayo News also reported last week (paper and digital versions) that college commitments would rule out Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen and Conor O’Shea from this one.
Donal Vaughan is suspended for Sunday due to the red card he picked up late on the last day. Jason Doherty went off during the first half last Sunday, suffering from suspected concussion following a clash of heads, and it’s not clear yet if he’ll be fielded in Kiltoom.
A number of lads are still out injured as well. That piece from last week’s Mayo News stated that Ger Cafferkey won’t be ready to play until early March as he continues his recovery from the serious hamstring injury suffered last April. Brendan Harrison, meanwhile, had hip surgery before Christmas but was due to start back in training on return from South Africa. Diarmuid O’Connor (hamstring) is also on the rehab list as are Michael Hall and new boy Gareth O’Donnell.
Roscommon have beaten us in this annual January fixture in each of the last three years. Fat lot of good it has done them but I’d say there’s a desire there all the same in our ranks to bring that streak to an overdue end.
There are dangers, though, in rolling out the big guns on a dank day in January. Last year’s FBD meeting with the Rossies proved particularly costly for us in this regard, with Keith Higgins picking up an injury which kept him out of the entire NFL campaign. The same day Kevin Keane picked up a nasty shoulder injury that had him sidelined ’till April, while Tom Parsons suffered a finger dislocation which thankfully didn’t keep him out of action afterwards.
Ideally, what you’d like to see is a blend of the returnees and some of the new lads who’ve done well over the first two games. The focus now has to be on getting the squad set for the League and the lads who have put up their hands against NUIG and IT Sligo certainly deserve the opportunity on Sunday to show that they can play a part for us over the spring and, possible, the summer too.
As for Sunday’s match itself, I’m not overly concerned how it goes. The game has, though, piqued my interest and my road-trip buddy and I have cleared our respective diaries for Sunday to make the easy jaunt down the motorway to Athlone and up the road from there to Kiltoom for it. Yeah, it’s time to get back on the horse once more.