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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 30 March, 2020
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Avoiding injuries imperative for the county worst affected by player drop-outs

Longford have lost eight players from their 2019 panel.

Dublin's Cian Murphy is surrounded by Longford players.
Dublin's Cian Murphy is surrounded by Longford players.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

OVER 60 PLAYERS are known to have opted out of county football for 2020, but Longford have been the worst affected.

Padraic Davis is without eight of last year’s squad for the upcoming campaign, two more than Cavan, Leitrim and Waterford who’ve all lost six men. 

David McGivney, John Keegan, Aidan McElligott and Darren Quinn have all gone travelling, while Barry McKeon will spend the summer in the US. 

Connor Berry and Robbie Smyth have also decided not to commit, while Mullinalaghta star James McGivney is not currently part of the squad but may return at some point. 

On a bright note, five players who were absent in 2019 – Darren Gallagher, Rian Brady, Dessie Reynolds, Peter Lynn and Kevin Diffley – are back in Davis’ plans after spending last summer abroad. 

All five featured in their O’Byrne Cup semi-final win over Dublin on Saturday. Gallagher, who dropped off the panel after an outstanding league campaign in 2019, kicked five points including the winning free in stoppage-time. 

His midfield partner Diffley grabbed 1-1 and Brady was Longford’s most dangerous forward, contributing four points against the Dubs. 

“We played to win and we came here to win,” said the Longford boss afterwards.

“Obviously they would have come to win also, but certainly they wanted to get a look at as many as they possibly could.

“It was two different camps. We came here to put in a performance and hope that we could turn them over. And we’ve done that.

“We probably got out of it what we deserved. We certainly deserved a draw anyway. It was a game of two halves. They really bossed us in the first half.

“We haven’t even encountered anything like that in Division 3 last year, whereby we couldn’t even put back-to-back possessions together.

“If we got a score or a wide, we certainly couldn’t win back the kick-out. But I think we turned that around in the second half and we gave ourselves a real chance. 

“Even had we been defeated, we got as much out of that game as we could have wished for.”

dessie-farrell-shakes-hands-with-padraic-davis Dublin manager Dessie Farrell shakes hands with Longford boss Padraic Davis after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They’ll face John Maughan’s Offaly in Saturday’s final, two weeks before the midland rivals meet again in the league. 

There’s potential for some shadow-boxing to occur in Tullamore next weekend, but Davis insisted they intend on landing the trophy.

“It is what it is,” said Davis. “Offaly are in the same situation. If we can stay clean on the injury front, I’m delighted we’re getting another game. And it’s a final. Trophies don’t come across that door saddle too often in this county.”

Division 3 is set to be highly competitive this season due to the introduction of the Tier 2 championship. The two promoted sides this year are guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire competition this summer.

The presence of Super 8s side Cork in the third tier of the league narrows the margin for error for promotion hopefuls like Longford. If they fail to seal promotion from Divison 3 then Longford will require a first Leinster final appearance since 1968 to make the All-Ireland proper.

They kick-off with three extremely winnable games against Louth, Offaly and Leitrim, which will go a long way to determining how their spring campaign unfolds. 

“It’s another game in the final, against Offaly, and then it’s on to the National League so we have to try and get a balance between these games bringing us on, and how we rest lads and how we deal with our injuries.”

Given the players they’re already without this year, it’s imperative Longford keep their squad fit over the coming weeks and months.

“So far, so good,” Davis added. “We’ve a fairly clean slate, and a lot of credit has to go to the couple of strength and conditioning lads here, Alan Malone and James Murray.”

Malone, in particular, is highly-rated having worked under Colm Bonnar with the Carlow hurlers over the past few seasons.

Longford’s fitness levels showed as they finished strongest to pop over the last three scores despite using just 18 players over the 70 minutes, compared to Dublin’s 25.

“It just goes to show the strength in depth that there is in Dublin,” added Davis. “Good footballers. Supreme athletes. And it was a fantastic workout for us.

“And obviously they got out of it probably what they wanted also. They ran a lot of subs in there from very early on. So look it, all in all, we’re happy to get the result.”

A season that has started off with O’Byrne Cup wins over Kildare, Carlow and Dublin, leaves Longford on the hunt for some early season silverware and in decent shape as the league fast approaches.

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Kevin O'Brien

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