LOUTH boss Aidan O'Rourke is expecting to make up to five or six changes to his team for Wednesday's early season derby tussle with Meath at Pairc Tailteann (7.30pm).
The Reds chief is committed to giving as many players game time as possible this week as his troops tackle three O'Byrne Cup games in eight days, and he also has a few injuries to contend with after Gary Connolly and Derek Crilly both retired injured before half-time against UCD last Sunday.
'There will be changes, possibly as many as five or six, but we won't be naming the team until we train tonight,' he said on Tuesday afternoon. 'We'll give a few more lads a run out and we have three or four carrying knocks from Sunday.'
Two players that definitely won't feature are JP Rooney and Ray Finnegan. The former is still six weeks away from a comeback from a knee operation, while Finnegan is being afforded an extended break after carrying a hip injury through most of last season. Paddy Keenan will come back into the reckoning, however, and O'Rourke expects him to feature in either the Meath or Longford games.
With both sides winning their opening round fixtures against UCD and Longford respectively, the outcome of tonight's clash will go a long way to deciding who tops the group and earns a home semi-final tie, possibly against Dublin.
O'Rourke is more concerned about running the rule over players in a competitive environment, but he also recognises the advantages that an extra game would bring.
'Ideally we'd like to top the group, because if we do that we get another competitive game. The National league is still a few weeks away so you're going to be looking for challenge matches if you don't [qualify].'
However, regardless of the stakes, O'Rourke is acutely aware that any Louth/Meath clash carries more weight than your average O'Byrne Cup tie and he is looking forward to the challenge.
'From our perspective these games are about developing the group and assessing the players, but having said that it's good to get games with a bit more bite and obviously any game between Louth and Meath is going to have a bit more bite.
'I would expect the next two games to be more of a physical challenge for us, but overall I think the four teams in the group are fairly evenly matched.
'I felt UCD were sharper and fitter than us on Sunday, but like ourselves, Meath and Longford might not be as far along with their preparations.'
New Meath manager, Mick O'Dowd also experimented on Sunday, handing out four debuts and playing Joe Sheridan alongside Graham Reilly in midfield.
O'Dowd has only one minor injury concern, Donal Keogan, who suffered a mild concussion in Ballymahon and like O'Rourke is keen to give every member of his squad a chance to impress in the O'Byrne Cup.