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Fresh Louth may look to youth to end Longford hex

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27 September 2020; Tom Jackson of Ardee St Mary's during the Louth County Senior Football Championship Final match between Naomh Mairtin and Ardee St Mary’s at Darver Louth Centre of Excellence in Louth. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

27 September 2020; Tom Jackson of Ardee St Mary's during the Louth County Senior Football Championship Final match between Naomh Mairtin and Ardee St Mary’s at Darver Louth Centre of Excellence in Louth. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

27 September 2020; Tom Jackson of Ardee St Mary's during the Louth County Senior Football Championship Final match between Naomh Mairtin and Ardee St Mary’s at Darver Louth Centre of Excellence in Louth. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Louth will bid to end a five-year winless run against Longford on Saturday in what is Mickey Harte’s first O’Byrne Cup campaign at the helm.

The narrow Division 3 victory of 2017 was the last occasion in which the Reds prevailed in this provincial fixture, with the Midlanders having prevailed in five of the six meetings since.

Indeed, the last of the fixtures – the 2020 Championship clash in Mullingar – signalled the end of Wayne Kierans’ tenure in charge and in the intervening 14 months or so, there has been a relatively significant shift in the counties’ fortunes.

Whereas Louth got a boost from Harte’s appointment and approach Saturday’s tie with a fair sway of optimism, Longford only installed Billy O’Loughlin as manager at the end of November, after, it must be pointed out, Harte and Gavin Devlin had already begun 2022 preparations from Darver.

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The Laois native replaced Padraic Davis in the gig following a disappointing season in which demotion to the league’s bottom tier was only narrowly avoided – and then there was the heavy Leinster quarter-final exit at the hands of Meath.

FRESHNESS
Harte currently has a panel of roughly 47 players and quite a chunk of those who could feature across the O’Byrne Cup programme are new to the scene, mainly sourced from U20 panels of recent years.

With Sam Mulroy (groin), Conor Grimes (groin) and Anthony Williams (shoulder) unlikely to play any part during early January, there will be opportunities for others – some new faces, perhaps? – to stake a claim.

Leonard Grey (St Patrick’s) and Seán Healy (Naomh Máirtín) had really impressive club championships and could come into contention across the half-back line, though the most interesting area of focus could well be the identity of the goalkeeper.

Having won back his place from Martin McEneaney (St Patrick’s) during the National League, Máirtín’s Craig Lynch was the favoured stopper last summer. Hunterstown Rovers’ Niall Carrie has been added into the mix and appears to have impressed during training with coach Steve Williams.

Conall McCaul, St Joseph’s, is undoubtedly a prospect, but a hamstring injury has stunted his progress in pre-season and may rule him out of contention for action despite his return to full training last Sunday.

Expected, however, to feature prominently is Tom Jackson. The St Mary’s man was part of the training panel in 2021 but having been a strong performer for his club in the aftermath of his county commitments, he seems to have taken his game to a different level within the ditches of Darver. A wing-forward berth could be on the cards for the younger of the Jackson brothers.

Liam, the elder of the Deeside duo, is back in the fold having missed the early phase of preparation through his basing at University in Coventry, while fresh from winning a second Joe Ward Cup with the Jocks, Eoghan Callaghan and John Clutterbuck should get pitch-time before the National League commences at the end of the month.

Ryan Burns (Hunterstown), Dermot Campbell (Dreadnots), Tommy Durnin (Inniskeen), Ciarán Downey (Newtown Blues), Niall Sharkey (Glyde Rangers) and Daniel Corcoran (Geraldines) are mooted to be flying at training and this half-dozen could well form part of Saturday’s XV.

OUTSIDE SHOTS
There are four players eligible for the U20 team who will at least be retained until the O’Byrne Cup’s climax – Peter Lynch (Roche Emmets), Kyle McElroy (O Raghallaigh’s), McCaul and James McDonnell (Roche Emmets).

Gauging what Harte will do is practically impossible in relation to the quartet. Guarantees, it is understood, have been afforded to the U20 management regarding the four youngsters’ availability to them well in advance of the championship in April.

Before then, there is the Leo Murphy Cup and it would assumedly be in the interest of Christy Grimes and Derek Walsh to have a full deck to choose from for those encounters.

None of the four have proven to be out of their depth at training, though it won’t be a case of debuts for debuts’ sake either considering the spring schedule is under a month away.

Some, if not all, of Gerard Browne (Roche Emmets), TJ Doheny (St Kevin’s), Cathal Fleming (Mattock Rangers), Oisín McGuinness (St Joseph’s), Gabriel Bell (St Joseph’s), Conor Faulkner, Jay Hughes, Conor Clarke (all Dreadnots) and Craig Lennon (St Mochta’s) may get their senior bows against either Longford (January 8), Dublin (January 12) or Offaly (January 15).


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