Back in Division 3 of the National Football League for the first time since the 2009 season, Longford need to make a winning start against Offaly on Sunday next if they are to be considered serious contenders for promotion and picking up points in the home games is going to be vital in such a competitive campaign.
While the faithful county come to Glennon Brothers Pearse Park in a certain amount of turmoil with a number of established players gone from the squad, and doubts about the availability of their best footballer Niall McNamee for the National League, the new Offaly manager Gerry Cooney will still be quietly confident of getting something from the clash against Longford.
Recent competitive fixtures between the counties have been close affairs and a draw was the outcome in the last league meeting in February 2009, a Division 3 game at O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
But Offaly will sorely miss the services of such established players as Ciaran McManus and Karol Slattery while also absent from the current set up are Scott Brady, Joe Quinn, Thomas Deehan and John Reynolds. Other notable absentees are Sean Ryan, John Coughlan and Brian Connor and a struggle will be difficult to avoid in this transition period.
Although the new-look Offaly team started the season with some promise when scoring a quite emphatic 3-6 to 0-7 win over a much understrength Westmeath outfit in the opening round of the O’Byrne Cup, the faithful county then crashed to a crushing 0-17 to 0-4 defeat against a ruthless Kildare side in the next round of the competition at the Newbridge grounds.
According to reports, Offaly were totally lacking in pace and physique and a big overall improvement will be required to survive in such a tough league as Division 3. Having said that, the general opinion is that there is little separating the eight counties in terms of quality and the quest for promotion and the battle to avoid relegation is expected to be equally intense.
Returning to the Offaly squad this season are Paul McConway, Kevin Lynam and Aidan Keenaghan while other players with considerable senior experience are Ross Brady, Richie Dalton, Brian Darby, Niall Darby, Niall Smith and Ken Casey.
It is interesting to note that regular goalkeeper Alan Mulhall was tried at full-forward in the recent O’Byrne Cup games while one of the new additions is Kilmacud Crokes player Brian Hanamy, who declared for Offaly under the parentage rule.
Some of their talented young footballers include Anton Sullivan (who played for Athlone I.T. against Longford in the O’Byrne Cup game in Ballymahon a few weeks ago), Sean Pender, Bernard Allen, David Egan and John Maloney and Offaly will probably prove to be difficult opponents on Sunday even without their class act forward Niall McNamee.
While the Longford management team experimented to a certain extent in the games against the college teams Athlone I.T. and DCU in the O’Byrne Cup, a lot of the regulars last season featured in the 2012 ‘warm up’ tournament notably David Barden, Brian Kavanagh, Francis McGee, Sean McCormack, Donal McElligott, Bernard McElvaney, Kevin Diffley, Shane Mulligan, Declan Reilly and Enda Williams.
However, Kavanagh has broken a bone in his hand that will rule him out of action for the start of the league campaign while also sidelined is McGee who is troubled by a hamstring injury.
Rested in January for different reasons were Paul Barden, Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran and Damien Sheridan and all should be in contention to start against Offaly. Returning to the squad after a break from the inter-county scene is Paul Kelly while Michael Quinn, Colm P Smyth, JJ Matthews and James McGivney are part of the promising younger brigade included in the current Longford senior set-up.
The indications are that the manager Glenn Ryan will opt to field his most experienced team for the crucial opening fixture against Offaly and with home advantage a Longford win will hopefully materialise, thus leaving the players in a confident frame of mind for the floodlit clash against Cavan at Breffni Park in Round 2 of the National League the following Saturday night.