INTO THE BAT­TLE

Fer­managh To present a stern ex­am­i­na­tion

Bray People - - SPORT - PETER KEOGH GAA Re­porter

NFL Di­vi­sion 3

Wicklow v Fer­managh Aughrim - Sun­day - 2pm Wicklow make their de­but in Di­vi­sion 3 of the Na­tional Foot­ball league on Sun­day when they take on Fer­managh in a first round match at a Wicklow's county grounds in Aughrim.

The fact that Harry's men are play­ing against the team they beat in the Di­vi­sion 4 fi­nal a year ago may help to cush­ion their de­but in the higher grade a lit­tle but it should also be re­mem­bered that when the sides met in the league last year it was Fer­managh that came out on top, so any­one think­ing of a soft land­ing should think again.

The win over the Dubs in their own Par­nell Park in our last match in the 0'Byrne cup was the one bright spot in Harry's team build­ing pro­gramme at the start of this year.

The dis­play that day gave the Wicklow sup­port­ers present a great boost and should have had the same ef­fect on team spirit. Since then Harry and his se­lec­tors have been get­ting on with an­other very im­por­tant part of their team build­ing pro­gramme and that is cut­ting down a big and un­wieldy panel to the re­quired size.

Fol­low­ing friendlies against Laois and col­lege teams the axe had fallen and the panel has been cut back con­sid­er­ably. The big ques­tion is has the team build­ing ex­er­cise pro­duced the de­sired re­sults? Have they for ex­am­ple found re­place­ments for play­ers like Seanie Fur­long, Leighton Glynn and top scorer Tony Han­non up front?

Se­lec­tor Gavin Wynne was only pre­pared to talk about the play­ers that were on the panel at this point in time. He put poor per­for­mances in a cou­ple of chal­lenge matches down to the fact that they were try­ing to get their panel into shape.

'We needed to give the lads as much match time as pos­si­ble be­fore coming to any de­ci­sion and that some­times in­volved putting out dif­fer­ent teams in both half of the same match,' he said.

'The only play­ers on the cur­rent panel that we ex­pect to be short of on Sun­day is Leighton Glynn and Stephen (Ch­ester) Kelly. Leighton is re­cov­er­ing well but we will not have him back for a while longer,' added Wynne.

Ev­ery­thing else is go­ing well in the camp ap­par­ently, the fit­ness lev­els are im­prov­ing all the time and the spirit is top class. The panel is now down to 32 play­ers and all are in good con­di­tion.

Nicky Mer­nagh is back in full train­ing but Sun­day could be a bit too soon to put him in. Ciaran Hyland and Alan Byrne, who missed some of the ac­tion in the O'Byrne Cup, are back to full fit­ness and avail­able for se­lec­tion. Mick McLough­lin, who pulled up in the warm up for the Dublin match is also ex­pected to be avail­able.

A few things to pon­der on for peo­ple who like to pick their own start­ing 15 - Foot­baller of year 2012 John Flynn has no real chal­lengers for the goal keep­ing po­si­tion and it is quite pos­si­ble that the se­lec­tors will set­tle for util­ity player Robert Lam­bert as the only cover needed.

Damien Power is back in train­ing and mak­ing a strong bid to win back his place in de­fence. Would you have him at cor­ner back where he played against the Dubs or in his old full back po­si­tion?

James Kelly has been do­ing well at full back; will he hold his place? - and if he does, that would leave Ciaran Hyland and Alan Byrne to fight it out for the one re­main­ing spot in the line. How would you solve that one?

Pa­trick McWal­ter has be­ing do­ing well at cen­tre half back and most peo­ple will ex­pect to see him line out there. The two Pauls - Cun­ning­ham, un­til he fell foul of the ref­eree and McLough­lin did well against the Dubs - agreed? How­ever Stephen Byrne was se­lected in that line for both games but had to cry off.

Mick McLough­lin, who never fails to be se­lected

when avail­able is also very much in the reck­on­ing - and then there could be Dar­ren Hay­den if avail­able. Solve that one.

At this stage most peo­ple be­lieve that Harry has found a part­ner for Stafford at mid­field. An­thony McLough­lin has be­ing do­ing so well that it is hard to see him moved. So far James Sheerin looked the best of the chal­lengers.

The se­lec­tors made two in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ments in the half for­ward line, and both worked well in the O'Byrne Cup matches - but this is an­other step up. Dean Healy has looked good

enough at num­ber 10 af­ter mak­ing his name at num­ber seven.

Rory Finn may not be the fin­ished ar­ti­cle on the 40 but so far he has looked good. Paddy Dal­ton cer­tainly win­tered well and was just fly­ing in ev­ery match (is there an­other year in the great hearted Coolkenna lad?).

The chal­lengers there would in­clude club foot­baller of 2012 Dar­ragh O'Sul­li­van; Kevin Murphy, Balt­in­glass, or some­one like Paul McLough­lin, should he not make it in de­fence. What do you think?

With the three top strik­ers of 2012, Seanie Fur­long, Leighton Glynn and Tony Han­non now miss­ing it would be rea­son­able to ex­pect gaps ap­pear­ing up front.

How­ever you could still have a full for­ward line with 'find of the year' Bren­dan McCrea in one cor­ner and Austin O'Mal­ley who had a great game against the Dubs in the other.

Paul Earls surly posted a mes­sage to the se­lec­tors with his vi­tal goals in our own cham­pi­onship last year and looks good for the 14 jersey.

Should the up and coming Conor McGraynor come in there some­where? A lad of his tal­ents must be given as much match time as pos­si­ble.

I am not sure if the col­leges have still got a hold on county play­ers still but if they don't John McGrath, Dar­ren Hay­den as well as McGraynor will be avail­able for se­lec­tion and that would change the look of the for­ward set up dras­ti­cally. McGrath was one of our most con­sis­tent play­ers last year and if avail­able is sure of a place on the team.

To sum up, from the team that played Fer­managh in the League fi­nal last April the only two not now on the panel are Tony Han­non and Seanie Fur­long.

New­com­ers to the panel in­clude Bren­dan McCrea, James Kelly, Pa­trick McWal­ter, Paul McLough­lin, Kevin Murphy Daniel Woods, Luke Ben­son, James Sheerin

We can­not af­ford to take this Fer­managh team lightly. Peter Canavan is al­most cer­tain to have learned from the league fi­nal and will be bet­ter pre­pared this time. We are go­ing in to this Di­vi­sion as cham­pi­ons of Di­vi­sion 4 and will be there to be shot down.

We are the ones that must be on our guard - re­mem­ber it is a higher di­vi­sion and we have to be pre­pared to step up our game. We can win this one but only ev­ery player gives it all for the full 70 min­utes.

Ke­hoe Cup semi-fi­nal

Wicklow v Meath Trim - Sun­day - 2pm The first clash of fix­tures in 2013 oc­curs on Sun­day when the Wicklow hurlers must travel to a Meath venue to play Meath in the semi-fi­nal of the Ke­hoe Cup.

The first big ques­tion about this match is will Casey and his se­lec­tors con­tinue to ex­per­i­ment and team build or will they field their best avail­able 15 in a bid to col­lect some early sea­son sil­ver ware?

Casey is def­i­nitely pleased enough with what he has saw so far and in par­tic­u­lar with how the young play­ers are shap­ing up. How­ever he has a big panel and has still to give match time to at least half a dozen other young play­ers. So will we see an all out bid to get closer to some to that cup on Sun­day?

Or will we see other young play­ers like John Hen­der­son, Harry Stephen­son, John Man­ley, Shane Nolan or Pa­trick Far­rell get their chance to prove their worth or well be­ing? Oth­ers who need more time to re­cover from in­jury and make a bid for per­ma­nent places on the team in­clude Stephen Kelly, Ea­monn Kearns and Joe Murphy.

Murphy had his op­er­a­tion last week and is al­ready back in light train­ing. Ro­nan Byrne is an­other mem­ber of the panel that Casey will be tak­ing a look at but he is still tied up with Trin­ity Col­lage and by all ac­counts do­ing well. He will not be avail­able un­til the league starts up.

Meath, on their home turf in Trim will be no push over. They have a free scor­ing mid­fielder in John Myler and an ace free taker in Stephen Clynch and will be anx­ious to give the home sup­port­ers some­thing to cheer about.

Ver­dict - a very big test for Casey's men but they could an­swer the call again.

Wicklow man­ager Harry Murphy will be hop­ing for a big re­sult on Sun­day against Fer­managh. Home wins will be vi­tal as the Garden County strut their stuff in Di­vi­sion 3 for 2013.

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