LOUTH's hurlers will be looking to hit the ground running when they open their 2011 season with a home game against Roscommon in the Kehoe Cup at the weekend.
Paddy Kelly's charges shook off the cobwebs by beating Monaghan in a challenge match in Inniskeen last Friday to commemorate a match between Channonrock and Inniskeen in 1806. Played in difficult conditions, Louth ran out 4-14 to 2-3 winners.
The Wee County turn their attention to competitive matters this weekend with Kelly hoping to use the Kehoe Cup as a springboard to the NHL Division 3B opener against Sligo on February 13.
"We will be hoping to get to another league final, and to win it this year", said Kelly. "Last year we were beaten by Wicklow and we were disappointing in the Nicky Rackard Cup, going out to Sligo, but I would certainly expect us to do a lot better this season.
"In my mind we are stronger than we were last year. We gave a lot of young lads a chance last season and the year's experience will certainly help bring them on. With the experience we have in the squad, I think we have a great blend and we should be a match for anyone."
If Louth overcome the westerners on Saturday, they face Meath in the next round of the Kehoe Cup. A stiff test, but one which Kelly is hoping his side encounter.
"It's great to have a game against Roscommon and then potentially Meath in the next round. Roscommon opted to play in the Kehoe Cup to get games like this ahead of their league campaign and the the quality of those teams means we should be ready for Sligo on February 13."
Louth also play Sligo, who beat the Reds in the Nicky Rackard Cup quarter-final last year - in their championship opener on April 24 - just one week after a potential NHL Division 3B final.
"It is a short season this year", explained Kelly. "Last year we had nearly four or five weeks between the league final and the Nicky Rackard and we lost our momentum slightly. This year our league form will really dictate our hopes of winning the Nicky Rackard."
Louth have been boosted by the return of Conor Kerrigan and Brian Hassett to the senior squad while Gerard Smyth and David Dunne - who both missed out on crucial parts of last season through injury - are fit and raring to go. Diarmuid Murphy picked up a facial injury against Monaghan but Kelly is hopeful of having the Naomh Moninne man back for the league curatin raiser.
"If we can build our confidence up and keep a clean bill of health then we are in with a great chance", said Kelly. "Last year we couldn't get a consistent run going so we will be looking to start building momentum from when we take to the field on Saturday".
LOUTH v Monaghan: Ruairi O'Reilly; Donal McArdle, Barry Murphy, Adrian Wallace; Darren O'Hanrahan, Ronan Byrne, Diarmuid Murphy; Donagh O'Sullivan, David Dunne; Shane Fennell, Shane Callan, Gerard Smyth; Gavin Kerrigan, Derek Horan, Aidan Callan. Subs: James Connolly for O'Reilly, Brian Hassett for D Murphy, Conor Kerrigan for D O'Hanrahan, Mark Wallace for Adrian Wallace, Gary Rellis for S Fennell, David Kettle for A Callan, Brian Corcoran for S Callan.
Louth's 2011 campaign
NHL Division 3B Fixtures
February 13: Louth v Sligo
February 20: Louth v Monaghan
March 6: Fingal v Louth
March 13: Louth v Mayo
April 2: Donegal v Louth
April 10: Roscommon v Louth
Nicky Rackard Cup
April 24: Sligo v Louth