While Longford are facing a tough task against Roscommon in Round 1 of the National Football League at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday next (throw-in 2pm), a winning start is vital and particularly so with home advantage.
Defeat in the opening league fixture would put new manager Jack Sheedy and his players under immediate pressure in the so competitive Division 3 but Longford have enjoyed an encouraging record against Roscommon in recent seasons and will be hoping for another positive result on this occasion.
When the counties clashed in the Division 4 title decider at Croke Park back in April 2011, with both having secured promotion, it was Longford who emerged victorious by the fairly emphatic margin of six points to register a first win over their neighbouring rivals in the National League since 1972.
That was a very sweet success for Glenn Ryan’s side and Roscommon suffered another local derby setback in 2012 when Longford came storming back from five points down in the early stages of the second half to come out on top (0-16 to 2-8) in a cracking game at Pearse Park on their way to eventually winning the Division 3 league title.
But things took a turn for the worst last season with the county losing all seven fixtures in their relegation from Division 2 and the slide continued in most disappointing fashion with the unexpected defeat away to Wicklow in the opening round of the Leinster Championship.
Then came a bit of a boost with a comfortable win over Limerick in the All-Ireland Qualifiers but a terrible season ended on a real sour note with the extra-time defeat at home to Wexford in the second round of the ‘back door’ championship.
That proved to be the final blow for Glenn Ryan, who gradually made the decision to step down after five years in charge, and all the focus is now fixed on the new Longford supremo Jack Sheedy - the former Dublin footballer whose main objective must be to consolidate the Division 3 status.
A crash into Division 4 would be a disaster in the build-up to the Leinster Championship first round clash against Offaly at Pearse Park on Sunday May 18 and with Bernard McElvaney, Donal McElligott (currently travelling abroad) and JJ Matthews no longer members of the squad, Longford will also be facing Roscommon minus the services of Declan Reilly who could be out of action for a considerable length of time as he recovers from a recurring injury with Niall Mulligan also on the current casualty list.
With Padraig McCormack sidelined due to a serious eye problem, manager Sheedy must also plan without the long serving Paul Barden who will apparently not be rushed back into action and thus is set to miss the first two league fixtures against Roscommon and Limerick and possibly even more games in Division 3.
At least there is some good news with the return of Brian Kavanagh, who missed the entire 2013 season after heading to work in New York after taking a leave of absence from his teaching job in Dublin, and the Ardagh native proved to be a big loss such is his unquestionable attacking class.
But Kavanagh unfortunately sustained a hamstring injury in the challenge against Galway at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, Co Mayo on Saturday, lasting just 18 minutes of the drawn encounter (0-12 to 1-9) played in extremely difficult conditions (with the game temporarily halted due to the bad weather) and he must be considered doubtful to be fit to face Roscommon.
Also back in the Longford squad is experienced defender Enda Williams, who played with Leitrim in 2012 and 2013, and both the Clonguish clubman and Kavanagh featured in the recent O’Byrne Cup campaign. The county management team opted to experiement to a large extent in that competition as a big number of newcomers were selected to play in the wins over Carlow and Athlone IT and the heavy defeat against Kildare.
While Jack Sheedy plans to give some of the new faces their chance to make an impact in the National League, most of the regulars are expected to line-out against Roscommon on Sunday with chief marksman Sean McCormack and resolute defender Shane Mulligan back in training after taking a short break that saw both miss the three games in the O’Byrne Cup.
Another key player Michael Quinn is set to return against Roscommon, after featuring for his college DCU in the O’Byrne Cup, while Slashers clubmen Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran and Michael Brady (seemingly recovered from injury) were all rested for the January tournament games but are back for the much more serious business of the National League.
When you add the names of other regulars such as Damien Sheridan, Colm P Smyth, John Keegan, Francis McGee and Peter Foy to that list, Longford are fairly well equipped in their efforts to beat Roscommon.
However, Jack Sheedy has apparently decided not to risk U-21 players Barry O’Farrell, Robbie Smyth, James McGivney and Barry McKeon for the seniors on Sunday as they prepare for the Leinster Championship first round clash against Westmeath in Newtowncashel on Wednesday February 19th.
Roscommon, with no All-Ireland Club distractions this season, will be hoping to push for promotion in the National League this season under the driving force of their Kerry native manager John Evans (in his second year at the helm) but suffered a setback when losing to Leitrim (managed by Dromard clubman Sean Hagan) in the Connacht FBD Senior League Final in Carrick on Sunday last.
Longford line-out v Galway on Saturday last: Paddy Collum; Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Daniel Keogh; Fergal Battrim, Fergal Reilly, Peter Brady; John Keegan (0-1), Michael Quinn; Paul McKeon (0-1, free), Ronan McEntire, Shane Doyle (0-1); Francis McGee (0-2, one free), Brian Kavanagh (0-2), Peter Foy (0-2).
Subs used:- Aidan Rowan, Enda Williams, Simon Kiernan, Brian Farrell, Padraig Gill (0-1) and Cian Mimnagh (0-2, one free).