The 2012 Senior Football Championship gets under way this weekend with Longford Slashers chasing three-in-a-row but are facing a tough battle to retain the county title with old rivals Clonguish and the emerging threat of young guns Killoe generally regarded as the biggest dangers in a most intriguing battle for the coveted Connolly Cup.
Slashers are currently the only unbeaten senior club in Division 1 and 2 of the All County League this season and are in consistently good form coming into the championship campaign spread out over four random rounds on a league system to determine the eight qualifiers for the quarter-finals.
Clonguish and Killoe have only lost one league game apiece in 2012 but it is Slashers who sit on top of the Division 1 table (a point ahead of the Young Emmets) and the sky-blues have a game in hand after winning all their eight fixtures played to date.
But the championship is a completely different ball game and a big worry for the title holders is the fitness of Paul Kelly who is presently sidelined with a ruptured quad muscle (swollen leg) and will certainly not feature in the group stages of the competition. In fact, long term casualty Kelly could be ruled out of the entire Connolly Cup campaign which would be a major blow for Slashers.
However, the title holders have a strong squad and backboned by other county players in Barry Gilleran, Dermot Brady and Niall Mulligan the townies are expected to make another big impact in the quest for championship glory and will be difficult to beat under the guidance of such a shrewd manager in Denis Connerton.
Slashers will certainly get off to a winning start by scoring a comfortable win over crisis club Sean Connolly’s, who had threatened to withdraw from the Senior Championship citing a lack of players that is mainly due to emigration and their most notable absentee is Martin Brady who is the United States for the summer.
Midfielder Brady was a member of the Longford squad that won Division 3 of the National League this season but despite all their problems the Ballinalee club are now committed to competing in the 2012 championship.
After enjoying a lot of under-age title triumphs in recent years, Killoe are going to be a force to be reckoned with at senior level in the future and the return of Michael Quinn from Australia is a massive boost for them. Quinn has been in tremendous form for the county this season, along with Sean McCormack who has excelled in the scoring stakes, and this influential duo will be expected to figure most prominently for the talented Young Emmets.
Back in charge of Killoe after a previous stint at the helm is Tommy McCormack and his charges will be strongly fancied to beat Ballymahon in their opening fixture. Offaly native Eamon Mahon done well to guide Ballymahon to the championship quarter-finals last year, springing a shock when knocking out Dromard in the group stages, but they will struggle to qualify in the current campaign.
Clonguish and Mullinalaghta will clash in the Senior Championship for the third year in succession and a cracking contest is in prospect in this attractive Round 1 fixture with a lot of county players in action.
The Barden brothers Paul and David have been fuelling the Clonguish fire for a number of years now and another of their key players is Enda Williams, now lining-out with Leitrim.
The new Clonguish coach is former Ballymahon and Longford player Trevor Smullen while in charge of St. Columba’s is Gerry Fox, who trained his native club Sean Connolly’s last year and they just missed out on a place in the quarter-finals on scores difference.
Spearheading the Mullinalaghta challenge on the pitch will be current county regulars Shane Mulligan, John Keegan, Donal McElligott and JJ Matthews and they will be hoping to reach the knock-out stages even if they lose the opening fixture against Clonguish.
There will also be a lot of interest is the meeting of Colmcille and Abbeylara in the first round and the presence of Niall Sheridan in the target man role at full-forward is always a threat with his sheer power.
Donal Ledwith is now in charge of Abbeylara and is working with quite a few promising young players with Colm P Smyth, Fergal Battrim and Robbie Smyth the main men.
Declan Reilly, as always, is the one player that makes Colmcille tick and they will be pushing hard for a place in the last eight under the driving force of their manager Gary Brady.
Moving up to take their place in the top flight for the first time in a few years are the 2011 Intermediate title winners Killashee St. Brigid’s and they will begin their senior championship campaign against Fr. Manning Gaels with a slim chance of causing an upset while Dromard face a tricky opening game against Mostrim.
Ciaran Fox, who coached the Longford minors to Leinster Championship glory in 2010, is the new manager of Dromard and they will be expected to make further progress in the Connolly Cup with at least a quarter-final spot the objective.
But after losing five games in the league this season, the Dromard form will certainly have to improve but they look good enough to get the better of Mostrim in Round 1 with Gerry Lynn still in charge of the Edgeworthstown outfit.
In the overall analysis, it must be said that Slashers are a vastly experienced outfit after contesting four of the last five county senior finals and will be a tough nut to crack in the quest for another title but the fitness of Paul Kelly is a vital factor in the destination of the Connolly Cup.