Injury worries for O'Rourke ahead of National League opener
County hurlers' tribute to murdered GAA stalwart
AIDAN O'Rourke is sweating over the fitness of Paddy Keenan, Andy McDonnell and Liam Shevlin as Louth prepare to open their Allianz League campaign away to Westmeath in Mullingar on Sunday (2pm).
The Reds chief rates the trio's chances as less than 50/50 for the trip to the midlands, while Ray Finnegan and JP Rooney are definitely out of contention as they begin their recoveries from longterm injuries.
Talisman Keenan (pictured right), who captained the side for the last three years, is struggling to shake off a calf strain, while McDonnell suffered a nasty gash to his shin in a challenge match last weekend.
McDonnell was arguably Louth's best performer during the recent O'Byrne Cup campaign and O'Rourke won't want to go into battle without Shevlin either, with the Dreadnots man struggling to recover from a shoulder injury.
'They're more likely to miss out than make it back in time,' the manager admitted on Tuesday morning. 'Paddy hasn't pulled on a pair of boots since the Meath game and Andy's injury needed six stitches - luckily that's all it was.'
On a brighter note the Armagh man revealed that Colm Judge and Derek Maguire are now back in full training having missed the pre-season campaign and while he still has some ground to make up Ray Finnegan also resumed training last week.
A 36-man panel was released on Tuesday and while it contained few surprises, there will be a handful of players enjoying their first season in red in 2013, with John Bingham, Gary Connolly and Gary O'Hare reaping the rewards of an extended trial process over the winter months.
County champions St Patrick's again lead the way in terms of club representation with five players on the panel, but neighbours Cooley Kickhams have drawn level with their fierce rivals, also on five. Dreadnots are next with four representatives.
O'Rourke's first job will be to whittle the squad down to a 26man matchday panel for Sunday, although injuries will make his job a little easier.
The manager wasn't making any bold predictions about Louth's prospects, but he wasn't ruling out a promotion tilt if his side get off to a good start in Mullingar and when they entertain Galway in Drogheda a week later.
'When I look at the fixtures the first thing I would say is that we can win every one of those games, but I also know we could lose every one of those games - that's how tight it will be.
'If we get off to a good start on Sunday and go into the Galway game with a bit of confidence anything is possible. But the flipside is also true if we don't win on Sunday.'
O'Rourke's players will need no introduction to Westmeath having faced the midlanders six times in the past three seasons. Louth won last year's best of three, beating Pat Flanagan's side in the League and Leinster Championship before Westmeath exacted some revenge in the Qualifiers which, ironically, was the only game of the last six meetings between the sides that took place in Mullingar.
O'Rourke has done his homework, watching DVDs of all six games, and he is expecting another tough test on Sunday. 'There was very little between the sides in any of those games and Westmeath are probably a bit stronger with Dessie Dolan and few more players back on board that weren't around for the past couple of years - but
we have a few back in too. There won't be much in it,' he added.
LOUTH PANEL: Cathal Bellew (Kilkerley Emmets); John Bingham (St Mary's); Mark Brennan (St Sylvester's); Declan Byrne (St Mochta's); James Califf (Dreadnots); Ronan Carroll (St Mary's); Jamie Carr (Newtown Blues); Darren Clarke (St Mary's); Gary Connolly (St Mochta's); Sean Connor (St Patrick's); Derek Crilly (Dundalk Gaels); Brian Donnelly (Cooley Kickhams); Mick Fanning (Naomh Mairtin); Dessie Finnegan (St Patrick's); Ray Finnegan (St Patrick's); Neil Gallagher (Cooley Kickhams); Gerard Hoey (Geraldines); Colm Judge (Newtown Blues); Paddy Keenan (St Patrick's); Shane Lennon (Kilkerley Emmets); Derek Maguire (Dundalk Young Irelands); Andy McDonnell (Newtown Blues); Jim Mc Eneaney (Geraldines); Conor McGuinness (Cooley Kickhams); John O'Brien (Sean O Mahony's); Eoin O'Connor (St Patrick's); Gary O'Hare (Na Piarsaigh); Conor Rafferty (Cooley Kickhams); Padraig Rath (Dreadnots); Adrian Reid (Mattock Rangers); David Reid (Mattock Rangers); Kevin Rodgers (Naomh Malachi); JP Rooney (Naomh Mairtin); Liam Shevlin (Dreadnots); Paraic Smith (Dreadnots); Brian White (Cooley Kickhams).