Friday 9 December 2016

Connerton hopes to make 'next step' in Longford second coming

Michael Verney

Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30

Longford manager Denis Connerton. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile
Longford manager Denis Connerton. Photo: Matt Browne / Sportsfile

It's not a position he had planned to return to but when the opportunity arose, Denis Connerton couldn't turn it down. The chance to manage Longford again was too good to resist.

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Successful stints in charge of his home club Rathcline, Emmet Óg Killoe and six years with Longford Slashers led to calls for an inter-county comeback in the wake of Jack Sheedy's resignation.

Only an exclusive club containing the likes of Billy Morgan, Jack O'Connor and Babs Keating have managed their native county twice but 11 years after his first journey ended, Connerton's second coming was rubber-stamped.

Despite Gaelic football's complexion changing radically during that 11 years, Connerton's drive is still the same and he looks forward to cultivating Longford's committed youngsters.

"We've got some good young fellas and it's all about trying to help them make that next step. The next step from minor and U-21 to senior is a massive step," Connerton told the Irish Independent.

"We only have two U-21s involved in the squad. A lot of lads are 22-23, they're at a great age. To have them exclusively and be able to help develop their inter-county careers is an exciting challenge.

"We invited in a lot of young guys but 40pc of our invitations were declined. Some will say that we don't have the best footballers on the county panel but we have the most dedicated and their attitude has been top-class."

With a squad of 29, three of whom are cup-tied with DCU and two long-term injuries, the numbers available to Connerton are already limited with the busy early-season period proving "extremely difficult".

His previous term was highlighted by an historic Division 1 win over the subsequent All-Ireland champions Kerry in 2004 and his second term began with a comprehensive O'Byrne Cup victory over NUI Maynooth on Sunday - not quite a landmark but scoring 18 points pleased him greatly.

This evening their skeleton squad make the short trip to St Loman's outside Mullingar where they will face neighbours Westmeath, whom they will renew acquaintances with in Division 3 of the league, and possibly in the championship.

"It's going to be difficult because we're going to be on an artificial surface. It's not normal ground, it's going to be very fast and completely different from the heavy ground we encountered on Sunday," he said.

"We won't be playing on that come league time, it's a bit unreal and I don't think there will be too many similarities between this game and the league match.

"We'll both be shuffling our teams around a bit because of the numbers available to us. We'll have to rest some guys from last Sunday's game because of the toll taken on their bodies, especially with the Wicklow game to come as well four days later."

While Connerton places emphasis on their performances at this time of the year, his eyes are already drawn to their opening league fixture with Offaly on January 31, and the championship clash with the same opposition, but he won't be getting bogged down with Dublin's Leinster dominance.

"I'm not interested in Dublin," he said. "We only play them once every five years. Our big concern is Division 3 and maintaining our position there. A lot of newly-promoted teams go straight back down so that's a priority. Then we're gearing towards Offaly in O'Connor Park."

Irish Independent

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