Although Louth boss Aidan O’Rourke is confident of the Wee County’s propects in the national league this season, he revealed to the Dundalk Democrat that his primary focus this year is the championship.
With Westmeath first up on Sunday, the Armagh All Ireland winner is looking at the league game against championship opponents Laois as the standout fixture of the campaign.
“The Laois match is the one that looms large on the horizon, stated O’Rourke. “My priority is the championship and we’ll be using the league as an opportunity to be as well prepared for that match (Laois) as possible. The league match with Laois might be a good sign post as we might be playing a bit of catch up.”
Looking at the fixture list as a whole, the Dromintee man believes that his team can put a game up to any of the seven teams in Division two.
“There’s no fixture that we can’t win. To be honest every team in the division is capable of both promotion or relegation.”
Even though he has one eye on the Laois match, O’Rourke knows that the first two games against Westmeath and Galway are vital.
“The start is the key, it effects the psychology of the group depending on those results, because if you win those first two matches you go into the break in the best way possible, but if you lose them then you’ve a long three weeks ahead of you”, stated the Louth boss.
It’s hard to look beyond the league match against Armagh without mentioning the obvious personal ties O’Rourke has with his native county, yet the Reds manager stated that he is not taking a personal interest in it.
“It’s just another match. It’s been a long time since I was involved in the Armagh set up. I’ve been with Kildare since then.”
On the injury front O’Rourke revealed that Naomh Mairtin veteran JP Rooney has been ruled out of the entire league campaign due to a long term injury, however there is better news on the horizon for Louth fans.
Ray Finnegan returned to the field for the first time last Thursday since the Pat’s league final against O’Connell’s last year.
Although he’ll have a lot of work to do on his fitness, according to O’Rourke, he is included in the national league panel.
Other injury concerns include Paddy Keenan and Liam Shevlin. Both are carrying niggles and O’Rourke will have to wait and see if they are fit in time for Sunday’s clash in Mullingar.
While some might see having four home matches out of seven as a slight advantage, the Louth manager doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m not sure if playing home or away gives any advantage. When players are on the field they are focused on that and whatever happens around them doesn’t matter.”
The 30 man panel for the league was finalised at the weekend and is set to be released tonight (Tuesday).
WIth the ‘real’ season starting on Sunday, many Louth fans will be concerned with the possibility of players leaving these shores during the summer.
This is something O’Rourke has been asked a number of times about, and although he cannot prevent players from departing he is hopeful that he can put the right structures in place to encourage players to stay on.
“It’s my job to put in place preparations for the entire team and panel. I’ll try to give every player the best opportunity possible and try to increase the confidence of each player as well.”