Longford's Barden facing fitness race for showdown with Rossies
Versatile David Barden is an injury worry for Longford ahead of Saturday night's Division 4 NFL final against Roscommon, where they'll hope to make up for their recent Leinster U-21s heartbreak.
The Clonguish star came off in their last league game with a leg injury and hasn't trained since, but is getting intensive treatment in the hope of making it.
His absence would be a big blow to Longford, but the availability of some of their U-21 stars, particularly centre-back Colm P Smith and midfielder Kevin Diffley, is a big boost for manager Glenn Ryan.
Despite receiving a 2-23 to 0-10 thrashing at Croke Park by Dublin on Longford's last visit, goalkeeper Damien Sheridan can't wait to get back there, cheerfully describing playing in front of a baying Hill 16 as "like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute".
"You know you're alive there, you know you're in a place where you want to play football and you want to keep coming back to it," he says.
A league final certainly represents a chance for Longford's seniors to make a mark after considerable progress by their minors and U-21s in recent seasons.
But Sheridan confesses that this time last year he was at an all-time low. "We were wicked in the league last year, the worst of the worst! I've blanked it from my mind," he admits of a dismal run, which saw only Kilkenny and London finish below them.
But a giant-killing coup over Mayo in last year's qualifiers and a decent performance against Down gave Longford cause for some serious soul-searching.
"Those games gave us great heart, especially when we saw where Down ended up. Glenn's initial two years were up, but we had two team meetings last winter when we all asked hard questions of one another and a lot of good came out of that," he says.
Longford are still far from perfect, losing to Clare and drawing with Wicklow and Roscommon (in the first round) but they've already clinched promotion and Sheridan feels that Ryan's influence can be seen in their defence, which has only conceded 4-66 this season.
"We're defending well now. We have a lot of small backs but they're clingy and will always do what's asked of them," he adds.