IN WITH THE BIG BOYS
Footballers facing tough tests as league begins
AIDAN O'BRIEN may not be a household name on the inter-county management scene, but he knows enough to realise that Wexford will have a difficult road in the 2013 Allianz National Football League campaign.
Wexford begin life in Division 2 on Sunday next when they entertain Longford at Wexford Park in what is a must-win game for the county to entertain hope of surviving what is going to be a very difficult campaign.
O'Brien is now in pole position having taken over from Jason Ryan. While this will be his first major game at the helm, he's still had time to assess his squad with three games in the O'Byrne Cup tournament.
The Westmeath native pulls no punches in his assessment of Division 2 which contains such quality sides as Armagh, Galway and Derry, so one immediately realises the challenges that lie ahead.
The new manager is already resigned to lining out without the services of attackers Ciarán Lyng and Liam Og McGovern, both with long-term injuries, while there's a doubt about P.J. Banville's ability to play a full 70 minutes at the moment, owing to an ongoing knee problem. However, O'Brien is hopeful that the Horeswood clubman will be able to make himself available.
Also on the injured list are Sarsfields pair Lee Chin and Kevin Gore, although both players had a bit-part with the hurlers in their victory over Offaly, while Joey Wadding has been receiving ongoing treatment for a hamstring injury.
O'Brien freely admits that this is a difficult opener, even on home soil. 'Longford have been very progressive over recent years under Glenn Ryan, having achieved promotion in successive seasons to rise from Division 4 to Division 2. They will be aiming to keep that progress going,' he said.
'Last year the sides met on four occasions with Longford winning both league outings, while Wexford won the championship replay albeit somewhat fortunately.'
But O'Brien is still backing his side. 'We have two goals, win our home games and pick up sufficient points to maintain our Division 2 status. That's our clear aim no matter how difficult we believe that will be.
'The players have put in a huge amount of preparation. I could not have asked for any more, they have been committed, although the weather has not been helpful from a football perspective,' he noted.
'While everything can appear to be moving along fantastically on the training ground, we will only really find out where we are by going into competitive action. But one thing I can assure people is that we will be competitive in each and every game.'
While Aidan O'Brien and his backroom have yet to announce their side, one can expect to see some new faces included in the starting 15.
Longford will be without their star attacker, Paul Barden, who is recovering from a groin operation, but they have two quality players in Michael Quinn and Seán McCormack who would trouble any side.
The game has a 2.30 p.m. start in Wexford Park.