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New wave of talent walking the line


Peter Canavan strolled the inter-county
sideline for the first time with Fermanagh
at the weekend

Peter Canavan strolled the inter-county sideline for the first time with Fermanagh at the weekend

Peter Canavan strolled the inter-county sideline for the first time with Fermanagh at the weekend

'NEW Year, new you,' goes the popular motivational slogan that is ringing out around the country right now, and that will certainly be the case among hurling's elite this year.

An unprecedented nine counties in the hunt for Liam MacCarthy next summer have recruited new senior hurling managers this season -- Galway, Clare, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Laois, Wexford, Offaly and Antrim.

By comparison, there have been relatively few changes on the more level playing fields of senior inter-county football.

The biggest changes have come in Connacht, where there are three new managers, compared to two in Leinster and one in Ulster, while the faces in Munster football management are unchanged.

Just 10 days into the new season, football's new managers have had their first taste of what it's like to carry the hopes of a county on their shoulders, and here's their first New Year report card:

One of the finest players of any generation, the Tyrone legend cut his managerial teeth with home club Errigal Ciaran before making the plunge into the county scene by replacing John O'Neill in Fermanagh.

How he started: Beat Antrim 2-11 to 1-6 in Enniskillen in last weekend's McKenna Cup opener. Canavan says Fermanagh's fitness "leaves a lot to be desired" and they're playing catch-up on a lot of counties but "there's a bond developing between the players and I'm pleased with that."

What next? Take on Queen's University in Enniskillen next Sunday.

Prospects: Good. After a disastrous 2011 in which 11 players refused to play for O'Neill, the only way is up.

'Year One' is often a manager's greatest chance for success, and remember Fermanagh beat Meath, Cork and Donegal to contest an All-Ireland semi-final in 2004, and took Armagh to an Ulster final replay in '08.

With such an inspirational figure in charge, getting out of Division 4 is a realistic ambition before they host Down in the Ulster Championship on June 3.

These two former Leitrim players and selectors have taken over the reins after Mickey Moran was forced to step down for health reasons.

How they started: Lost to Mayo by four points (0-10 to 0-6) in their FBD opener. Leitrim played well with the wind in the first half and were level until after the break but then faded.

"Traditionally Leitrim are a bit behind other teams in our strength and conditioning but we're working on that and have to work hard and move the ball fast to counteract that," said Breen.

What next: Leitrim play Roscommon in the FBD in Cloone next Sunday.

Prospects: Not great as they've been hit with more injuries and emigration. Only London and Kilkenny were worse than them in Division 4 last year and the former look intent on being even more competitive this year.

Leitrim then face the banana-skin of Ruislip come summer, so this will be a testing year.

Former Connacht senior and All-Ireland U-21 winning player for the county, who also won an Ulster title with Donegal as a player.

He is a Dublin-based schoolteacher who has been a Kilmacud Crokes selector in recent seasons so knows all about the modern game.

How he started: Drew with GMIT 2-8 to 1-11 last weekend. Roscommon are one of those teams who lose a lot of college-tied players early in the season but Newton says: "We'll have enough experience available to us and we'll be looking to win every game because we want to build up a winning mentality."

What next: Play Leitrim in FBD in Cloone next Sunday.

Prospects: Newton has a tough task, replacing the popular Fergal O'Donnell, who led the Rossies to the last two Connacht SFC finals, winning the provincial title in 2010.

They lost last year's Division 4 final to Longford and are back up in Division 3 but could be without the St Brigid's stars if their run continues to March.

Roscommon also have a tough championship opener against Galway in late May.

Galway's fourth manager in four years but the former county player was always tipped to take over after managing the Tribesmen to a minor All-Ireland in 2007 and an U-21 last year -- he has brought that full U-21 management team with him.

How he started: Galway beat Sligo IT in their FBD opener but then lost to John Maughan's NUIG (1-8 to 0-9), who had already beaten the Sligo seniors. "Our job is to bring back a bit of stability and to stay in Division 2 for a start," said Mulholland.

What next: Play London in the FBD in Ballinasloe next Sunday.

Prospects: As Cork have demonstrated, it takes a while to marry youth talent with your more experienced men. Galway only won one league game last year and got relegated to Division 2, but it too is a minefield, featuring Kildare, Meath and Tyrone.

Mulholland has persuaded Nicky Joyce, Niall Coleman and Barry Cullinane back to the panel, but whether Michael Meehan or Padraic Joyce will be available in the summer is still unsure and it will take some time to replace that sort of forward class and get Galway back to their previous heights.

Originally from Offaly but part of Meath's All-Ireland winning panels in 1987 and '88. He managed the Meath U-21s and was also a selector with Offaly when they were managed by Kevin Kilmurray to the 2006 Leinster final.

How he started: Offaly impressed by beating Westmeath 3-6 to 0-7 in their O'Byrne Cup opener. Cooney was abroad on a pre-arranged holiday/ charity commitment so selector James 'Ginger' Stewart took charge and will do so again next weekend.

"We needed to see the lads put in a decent effort and commitment and that's what we got, regardless of the result," said Stewart.

What next: Face Kildare in the bear pit of Newbridge in the O'Byrne Cup next Sunday.

Prospects: Good. Offaly have lost some great veterans to retirement and top forward Niall McNamee is addressing some personal problems but he should be back at some stage.

They finished mid-table in Division 3 last year and Cooney has the sort of player-centred approach to get them playing as a team again, but they've a tough championship draw against Kildare.

Murphy is a legendary local figure in Wicklow football who went straight from playing to managing Rathnew to seven county titles in 11 years and a Leinster club title in 2001.

How he started: An understrength side lost to 13-man DCU by a point (0-18 to 1-14) in their O'Byrne Cup opener in Baltinglass.

"You'd be wasting your time trying to compete with somebody like Micko (Mick O'Dwyer) -- it's up to me to put my own stamp on the team and try to make further progress," Murphy said.

What next: Host Athlone IT in the O'Byrne Cup Shield in Aughrim next Sunday.

Prospects: Difficult. Wicklow finished third and were unlucky not to make the Division 4 final last year but most managers who follow 'Micko' experience a slump, so Murphy needs a decent league run to get the county's players behind him ahead of a championship clash with Meath.

Division 4 has never been so competitive, including recently relegated Waterford, Limerick and newly-motivated Fermanagh -- and London's involvement in the FBD indicates their intent.

Irish Independent