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O'Neill return boosts Rossies as they battle to cope with player losses

ROSCOMMON have been boosted by the return of midfielder Seamus O'Neill to the county panel.

O'Neill was a precocious talent when he made his county senior debut as a teenager in 2001 but he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2009 and sat out last year because of work commitments.

His return is particularly timely as the Rossies have just lost one of their key men -- centre-back Cathal Dinneen -- as well as Brian Higgins, a championship starter at midfield in 2009.

Dineen has gone to Australia, but it is hoped that he will just miss the National League and will return by the time Roscommon start their Connacht title defence against New York on May 1.

However, Higgins has moved to New Zealand for work and is not expected back this season.

O'Neill's return will certainly improve their midfield options -- manager Fergal O'Donnell (below) was forced to move usual half-forward Karol Mannion there last season.

Another boost is the return to the panel of O'Neill's Kilbride club-mate Conor Devaney, though neither is expected to feature in Roscommon's FBD Connacht league opener against GMIT on Sunday. O'Donnell will be without over a dozen players in the FBD because of their commitments to college and club.

County champions St Brigid's are still involved in the All-Ireland series after beating Galway's Killererin in the Connacht final -- their ranks include Mannion and county captain Peter Domican.

Due to the number of absentees, Roscommon are expected to field a very experimental team in the FBD -- before their Division 4 league campaign opens against Longford on February 6 -- and they will undoubtedly be using it to look at some of their U-21s, who also won the Connacht title last year.

St Brigid's players will be unavailable for another two months at least, as they don't play the winners of the Munster championship (Nemo Rangers or Dr Crokes) in the All-Ireland semi-final until February 26.

Finding cover, especially for Domican at full-back, for the early stages of the National League will be among their priorities in the next three weeks.

Irish Independent