NEW Louth boss Aidan O'Rourke has been handed the perfect new year tonic after John O'Brien returned to Ireland - and more importantly Darver - over the festive period.
The Reds chief admitted the Sean O'Mahony's defender will need a 'bit of work' to get back to match fitness after two years in Australia, but his return will be a huge boost to O'Rourke and his management team as they prepare to sample their first taste of competitive fare at home to UCD in the O'Byrne Cup on Sunday afternoon (throw-in 2pm).
Securing O'Brien's return was high on O'Rourke's agenda when he was appointed, while Brian White and Colm Judge have also been welcomed back into the fold. O'Rourke also confirmed that the St Pat's contingent returned to training following their Leinster and O'Donnell Cup campaigns.
Numbers will be important as the games come thick and fast for O'Rourke and his players. After Sunday's clash with the Students, they travel to Navan to take on Meath on Wednesday week, followed by another home clash with Longford on Sunday January 13th. Should they top their section, the semi-finals of the new round-robin O'Byrne Cup format will be the following Sunday.
However, results will not be all that important to O'Rourke as he officially dips his toe into the heady world of inter-county management on Sunday.
'With three games in eight days it's mainly about looking at as many lads playing competitive football as we possibly can,' he stressed on New Year's Eve. 'We have a few injuries carrying over from last year and a few more picked up recently, so we're working off a panel of about 31 or 32 fit players at the minute, so everyone will get a chance to impress over the eight days.'
New 'closed season' rules have meant O'Rourke has been able to hit the ground running since his appointment in early October and after a number of trial matches it was straight into a gruelling pre-season.
'The players have done very well so far. I know it's early days but their application and commitment cannot be faulted and I've been very impressed by the playing ability too. Obviously the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but so far, so good.'
The Armagh All-Ireland winner and AllStar dismissed any suggestions that he might be nervous stepping into the dugout as the main man for the first time, but he is expecting a tough challenge from UCD.
'We're expecting three tough games, but in some ways UCD might be the most difficult. They'll have been together working on fitness and tactics for three or four months and they're one of the top three or four college teams in the country,' he added.