OFFALY'S footballers will start the new season without Ken Casey and Niall Darby after recent surgery but new manager Emmet McDonnell is hopeful they will be available again by the middle of the Allianz League.
Both players went under the knife after being dogged by persistent groin problems.
Casey, who lined out at centre-forward for the Faithful County last summer, had to have surgery for a Gilmore's Groin problem, while defender Darby has been suffering from the problematic osteitis pubis condition, which also results in recurring groin pain.
"They both had surgery in December and are already working away on their rehab and we are hoping they will be back by late March and in time for the fourth round of the league," McDonnell said.
He is making his own inter-county management debut next Sunday when Offaly take on Laois in their Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup opener.
The 33-year-old from Kinnegad has taken over the mantle of youngest inter-county manager in the country this season.
While he has no experience at senior level, he has already earned quite a reputation with St Mary's, Edenderry, where he is a teacher.
McDonnell managed the Offaly school to Leinster and All-Ireland senior 'B' titles in 2007 and the Leinster senior 'A' title in 2009. They won the Hogan Cup last year.
Rising Offaly stars Anton Sullivan, Sean Pender and Derek Kelly were coached at the school by McDonnell. Another St Mary's graduate is Paul Cribbin, the young Kildare player who subsequently went to Collingwood in the AFL but is now back and available to Kieran McGeeney this season.
McDonnell has not yet finalised his O'Byrne Cup panel but said "10 or 12 of the lads we're working with would have come through the school team with us".
He said 19 of last year's panel are also involved again this year, including county top scorer Niall McNamee.
"The only thing I am looking for at the moment is that the players are honest and committed and that's certainly been our experience so far," he said.
Offaly have home advantage in Tullamore for Sunday's O'Byrne Cup opener but the venue for Westmeath v Athlone IT clash has been switched to Moate.