Louth U20s get their competitive campaign underway in Kinnegad on Saturday when taking on Westmeath in the opening round of the Philly McGuinness Cup (1pm).
The Christy Grimes/Derek Walsh-managed side travel to Cusack Park rather bullishly having been put through their paces over an extended period and warmed up for the impending tussle with some promising performances in challenge matches, including a win over Cavan.
Since the grade’s inception, Louth have performed reasonably well in the pre-championship tournaments, qualifying for the Leo Murphy Cup showpiece in 2020, while last year’s renewal included a victory over Antrim and draw with eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone.
The move into a different competition sees the Reds take on changed opposition and, indeed, Saturday will mark the first occasion that Louth have faced Westmeath at the U20 grade, ahead of subsequent battles with Armagh and Monaghan for the right to play in the McGuinness Cup decider.
Longford, Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh are on the other side of the draw.
It is believed that the team is beginning to take shape following the culling of four more squad members in recent weeks. Johnny McGee (Stabannon Parnells) and Fionn Cumiskey (Kilkerley Emmets), two members of last season’s panel, were let go, as too were Keelan Maher (St Kevin’s) and Oisín Lynch (Glyde Rangers) in spite of all four performing strongly in the club championship just gone.
Josh Finlay (St Kevin’s), first-choice last year and a goalkeeper who has featured along TUD’s run to the Sigerson Cup semi-final, is expected to take up position between the sticks with Cillian Taaffe, Hunterstown Rovers, fancied to play in a full-back line that will almost certainly include Mark Holohan (St Fechin’s) once he stays injury free.
Promising Ardee St Mary’s player Tadhg McDonnell has caught the eye in the half-back line with his club and school (Ardee CS) over the past 12 months and the county U20 management now appear to be considering him viably for a similar post, with Cameron Maher (St Kevin’s) potentially filling the centre-half berth. Dreadnots’ Owen Murphy and Aaron McGlew (St Fechin’s) have been looked at in the half-back prism as well.
There are a plethora of options around midfield, although Beanón Corrigan (Geraldines) and Dara McDonnell (Naomh Máirtín) look to be leading the race at present, with tall O Raghallaighs clubman Daniel Reilly able to challenge for centre-field or even line-out on the wing, which he has done recently. Teenager Seán Callaghan, also of St Mary’s, could come into contention in either capacity as well.
Up front, the standard is very high. Kyle McElroy (O Raghallaighs), Tom Matthews (St Kevin’s), Harry Butterly (Stabannon Parnells), Liam Flynn (Mattock Rangers) and Kieran McArdle (St Bride’s) would be viewed as certain starters at this point in time, but there are several others who could come into the equation provided they take their chance when the opportunity presents itself.
Whatever the configuration, Grimes and Walsh will be eager for a positive result as they seek to better their league and championship performance of both their prior seasons in charge.