Three county teams in action at weekend
GAELIC GAMES PREVIEW OF THE G.A.A. ACTION
NFL - WICKLOW V. WATETRFORD
Wicklow take on Waterford in the second round of the NFL at Aughrim on Saturday.
Taken at face value this should be an easier task than a trip to Belfast. However, this is a fixture fraught with danger.
Waterford are not among the big guns but almost every year since John Keily took over as manager he produced one shock result - and generally it in an away match.
Last year he bowled over Antrim in Casement Park when they were within touching distance of promotion.
Three years ago his side beat Cavan in Breffni Park when the Ulster men needed only a draw to gain promotion.
So the mode has to be caution.
Micko had problems last week as he set out for Belfast. This week the same problems are still there, except that there are new ones to add in.
For starters new full-back Stephen Kelly got what appeared to be a bad enough ankle injury and is likely to be out for some time. John McGrath got a second yellow card and could have to serve a two-week ban
Micko used four U-21 players - Darren Hayden, Ciarán Walshe, Dean Siney and Anthony McLoughlin last week and with the match against Longford coming up the next day Phillip McGillycuddy will be anxious to see them rested on Saturday.
Micko used 21 players in Belfast and had only three more fit outfield players left plus goalkeeper Billy Norman.
So Mick McLoughlin who has just returned to training; Don Jackman who has just been recalled to the panel and Frank Clune are all he has left to fall back on.
All three are due to get a trial shortly so Saturday may be their baptism of fire.
One way or another this is a match that Micko will not be taking lightly and he will be looking for a big step up in performance from a few of his players.
He will also be hoping for a good turnout of followers to cheer on the team on their first appearance of the year on Aughrim soil.
THE HURLING LEAGUE
New hurling manager Michael Phelan will have his first outing in charge of the Wicklow hurlers when they take on Armagh in the opening round of the new hurling league at Arklow on Sunday.
The Orchard County are only recently back in tier two of the hurling league and from what we hear are making a big effort in the small ball game.
So we can put aside any notions of easy pickings in our first match.
All 35 or so players that have been turning up for training are on the panel at present but that may have to be pruned back a bit shortly.
For the moment ‘Titch’ and his selectors Martin Barnes and Eugene Byrne are likely to stick fairly closely with experienced players and feed in newcomers by degrees.
That means that we can expect players like the evergreen Jonathan O’Neill; Ted and Liam Kennedy, Joe Murphy, Willie Collins, Jeffrey Bremingham, Eoin O’Neill, John Keogh, Andy O’Brien, Eamonn Furlong, Denis Moran and Jim and John Connors.
Among the young players that should figure will be Ronan Keddy, Billy Cuddihy, Eoin Mason, Peter Kiely, Fintan Donnolly, Thomas Doyle, Alan Driver, TJ Hennessy, Colm O’Neill, Ciarán Doyle, Adrian Keogh, Jimmy Kelly, John Harper, TJ Byrne, Christy Moorhouse, and Gearoid O’Murchu.
There are also others in the wings like Shaun Byrne, Nick Skelton, Paul Gahan, Chris Kavanagh, and Emmet O’Sullivan.
Then we have newcomer Eoin Dunne from the Cuala club who looks like making the full-forward spot his own; Eoin Maher and Ger White.
That’s enough to be going with and also enough to insure that the selectors will have their work cut out when they sit down to name a team to (hopefully) beat Armagh on Sunday.
In these days of back doors, qualifiers, losers groups and what have you the odd one out is the unfortunate U-21 footballers.
It can happen that they are thrown in, as Wicklow have been for a second year, at the deep end and it is sink or swim.
Phillip McGillycuddy’s team travel to Longford on Sunday to take on a well prepared home side and must win to stay in the Championship.
It’s a toough task by any standards. The midlanders have just completed a hard run in the Hastings Cup which saw them reach the final.
That sort of match practice would be hard for Phillip and his selectors, Mick O’Toole and Conan Daye to match.
None-the-less this team have got a good enough schooling, including a number of practice matches against teams like Cork, Meath and Wexford and will not be found lacking in fitness.
Four of the panel - Darren Hayden, Ciaran Walshe, Anthony McLoughlin and Dean Siney - played on Micko’s team in Belfast on Sunday. At least two more, Gavun Murray and Brian Osborne, have trained regularly with the Senior panel..
Apart altogether from injury problems the odds are stacked against Phillip for three reasons.
First he has never been able to field a full strength team; he is conceding home advantage to a team that has been together through a full tournament programme and lastly - the Senior match against Waterford on the Saturday.
Micko will want to win his first home match and if his back is to the wall he may have to call on some of the U-21 squad.
The team is unlikely to be picked before Thursday so all we can do is have a guess at what it is likely to be.
Ronan Phelan may shade Rory Breslin for the goalkeeping spot.
The full-back line could be Craig O’Neill, Brendan McGarr and Ciarán Doyle with Colm Coogan losing out because of fitness.
Seán Metcalfe, Brian Osborne and Anthony McLoughlin should be the halfback line with Craig Smullen and Mark Kenny also in the reckoning.
Blaine Harmon, Cathal McNicholas and Gavin Murray are the front runners for the two midfield places.
The half-forward line could cost Phillip and his selectors some midnight oil. Two front runners for places, Paddy Byrne and Shane Carty, are both carrying injuries and must be listed as doubtful. That could leave a line of Darren Hayden, Donal Fitzgerald and Seán Tobin.
Barring late injury the fullforward line picks itself. It should read - Ciarán Walshe, Dean Siney and Paul Cunningham.
Others on the 29 strong panel and in line for places are Niall Curran, Diatmuid Cronin, Mark Caplis, Barry Murphy, Thomas Kelly, Oisin Doyle, and Donal Finch.
Patrick McWalter's mistimed attempt to dislodge the ball from James Loughrey resulted in a late yellow card in the National Football League Division 4 match against Antrim on Sunday.