The Waterford senior footballers get their 2010 league campaign off the mark when they take on promotion rivals Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon this Sunday.
Having come so close in the last few years, the Decies will be hoping to go one step further and claim a place in Division 3 for next season. Indeed, one feels that if this is to be a successful campaign, a win against Mickey Moran’s charges is a must.
New Waterford manager John Owens has already admitted that promotion is his number one priority for the coming campaign. Over the last few months, he has trawled the county for fresh talent in the hope of winning that elusive promotion.
He can also call upon most of the players that served John Kiely so faithfully over the last few seasons and there will be many familiar faces on show this weekend.
The goalkeeping position will once again come down to a choice between Tom Wall and Stephen Enright with the more experienced Wall expected to get the nod. In the full-back line, Owens may go for the Nire trio of Justin Walsh and the O’Gorman twins. In the half-back line, Stradbally’s Tony Grey is likely to be at right-half back with Tramore’s Paul Ogle on the other side. The highly important centre-back position will be filled by Ballinacourty’s Shane Briggs.
With Sean O’Hare presently unavailable to John Owens, Kill’s Mick Ahearne will probably be joined at midfield by the classy Eamonn Walsh of Ballinameela.
In attack, Waterford have plenty of options. The two main scoring threats of last season, Brian Wall and Liam O’Lionnain will once again be aiming to slice through the Leitrim defence. Others likely to get starting berths in this area include team captain Stephen Cunningham who is beginning his 16th campaign as an inter-county footballer, Wayne Hennessy and the pacy Conor McGrath.
Cillian O’Keeffe, Robert Ahearne and Tommy Prendergast are other players who could feature in the forwards. John Owens has already indicated that a big man on the edge of the square is likely to provide success with the new square ball rules swinging into operation. This would indicate that Ahearne and Prendergast are likely to play a role.
Of course, no team relies entirely on its first fifteen, and Gaultier’s JJ Hutchinson and Portlaw’s scoring sensation, Michael Donnelly could come off the bench to provide something different in the forward line.
Not a whole lot is known about this year’s Leitrim team. Like Waterford, they have come close to gaining promotion for the last couple of seasons and will also be hoping to ply their trade in Division 3 in 2011. Their results in the FBD league would indicate that they are struggling for form at the moment and this might actually be a very good time for Waterford to be playing them. Last Tuesday, they hosted Galway and were duly hammered by Joe Kernan’s men who came away from Ballinamore with a 2-9 to 0-5 win. Last Sunday, Leitrim came up against Sligo who defeated them by 6 points.
Waterford have certainly prepared well for this game and have several games under their belts at this stage. In recent weeks, they have pushed All-Ireland champions, Kerry all the way in the McGrath cup in Tralee while last week, they drew with a CIT side that included Cork stars, Paul Kerrigan, Paul O’Flynn, Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Neill as well as Kerry’s Barry-John Walsh.
A win in Leitrim could well pave the way for a successful promotion campaign for Waterford. In Owens, the players have a new, fresh voice in the dressing-room and I feel that they have enough in their locker to get a win in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada.