LOUTH have been handed a huge boost just days before their All-Ireland First Round Qualifier with Meath.
On Sunday night, news filtered through that Sean O’Mahony’s player John O’Brien was handed clearance for Saturday’s game against the Royals.
O’Brien, who came home the same time as Naomh Mairtin defender Mick Fanning has been training with the squad for just under a month.
In that month, O’Brien has been catching up on his fitness and is expected to return to the first team this Saturday for the game that has captured the attention of the whole country.
The news was music to Louth manager, Peter Fitzpatrick’s ears as last year, O’Brien played a huge hand in helping Louth reach the Leinster Final. It is believed that he just missed out on a precious All-Star award at the end of the campaign, by just one vote.
Speaking on Monday, Fitzpatrick said: “People have to remember how unlucky John O’Brien was last year not to get an All-Star along with Paddy Keenan.
“His return is a great boost and it really adds competition for places. It was great news when we received word that he was eligible for selection. As a result, he has made the panel even stronger.”
There was confusion over O’Brien’s eligibility when he returned from a seven month trip to Australia and for the last month, Boston.
In the states, O’Brien played competitively for a team there, but signed a different form than Mick Fanning, who was also in Boston with a GAA team.
Whilst Fanning signed a form allowing him to temporarily play for a team without transferring from Naomh Mairtin, it is believed O’Brien signed a different form and had to be transferred back to Sean O’Mahony’s before he could line out for Louth. That process was completed at the weekend and now he is ready to put on a Louth shirt for the first time since he lined out for the Wee County against Dublin in the final round of the qualifiers, which took place in the wake of the Leinster Final.
Coming into the game though, Fitzpatrick is sweating on the fitness of some of his players as Paddy Keenan, Mick Fanning and Andy McDonnell, amongst others are carrying knocks.
Along with this, Fitzpatrick is keen to avoid connotations with last year’s Leinster Final, insisting that his side are only focusing on round two of the qualifiers after being dumped out of Leinster by Carlow.
“We are trying to move on from the Carlow game and pick it up. We are tuned in, focused in training and ready to go.
“It’s the biggest game for Louth in a long time and we are treating it with the seriousness of a final.”
After being knocked out by Carlow, people thought it would be hard for Fitzpatrick to lift his players for the qualifiers, but then they were drawn against bitter rivals Meath. After that, there was no encouragement needed.
“Training has picked up. You can see it in training. They all want it so bad, to be part of it and be on the pitch, which is great to see. No one wants to miss it.”
Two players that gave Fitzpatrick serious food for thought in the last game were Andy McDonnell and Ronan Carroll, who were introduced as substitutes at half time.
They both made a huge impact on the game, but it was still not enough to send them through.
“Ronan and Andy did very well. People have to remember that nobody goes out to play badly for Louth, but when those boys came on, they made an impact.
“We should and could have won that game, but we have to move on and against Meath, it’s about who wants it more.”
Fitzpatrick is expecting a hard, physical game against Meath in Breffni Park and despite being disappointed that they have to play away as it’s a home fixture for Louth, Fitzpatrick said he is happy with the venue.
“It’s a good wide pitch and if we play the way we know we can play, we’ve a chance.”
Finally, the manager again had to take the focus off last year’s final, insisting this is a different story altogether.
“We are focused on this game, not the one last year. We have to win this in order to keep playing this summer. This is not the Leinster Final, it’s about both teams trying to get into round two, nothing else.
“We’ve been saying all year the final is done and dusted and now, it’s an opportunity to put things right from the Carlow game.”