Flanagan gets Westmeath start

 

These days, the so-called "big guns" of the GAA world may be chiefly concerned with the amount of sun block to use as they savour the rewards for last year's exertions.

But footballing life goes on, and, although such competitions as the O'Byrne Cup in Leinster may be considered secondary in nature, the other side of the coin is that they also represent an opportunity for some of the lesser lights to gain a foothold on the way to greater things.

Such is certainly the case with Westmeath. But the midlanders - conquerors of a shadow Meath team last Sunday, with the All-Ireland winning squad away holidaying in Dubai - have been hit with a number of injuries to key personnel in the run-up to their semi-final with Laois in Portlaoise this Sunday and they have been forced to leave two vacancies.

The left-half back and left-half forward positions have been left vacant in the hope that Aidan Canning and Shane Deering, respectively, will recover from injuries sustained in the win over Meath. The duo are having intensive treatment in an attempt to achieve fitness. A decision is unlikely to be made until shortly before the match.

Otherwise, there are two changes in the team with Damien Gavin, at centrefield, and Martin Flanagan, at full-forward, coming into the side. Flanagan, who made a considerable impression when introduced as a substitute against Meath, replaces Paul Conway who suffered concussion in that match.

Laois have made a number of changes, the most notable being the decision to move Tom Kelly from his customary attacking position back to fill the full back berth, with regular number three Eamon Delaney dropped.

Kelly's twin brother, Stephen, who scored 1-8 when introduced as a substitute in the quarter-final win over Wexford, is handed a cornerforward place, while Fergal Byron is recalled as goalkeeper and Brian McDonald is brought in at left-corner forward.

Meanwhile, Derry midfielder Enda Muldoon may be forced to miss the remainder of the National Football League, which resumes next month. Muldoon aggravated an old knee injury while training with the Ulster Railway Cup squad last week and will have undergo a MRI scan to determine the full extent of the injury.

But the 22-year-old has been told that, even if he doesn't require an operation, he will have to rest for a number of months if he is to have any chance of playing championship football this year.

One of the toughest managerial assignments in Gaelic games this year will fall to Mike O'Halloran, who has been installed as the new Kerry hurling manager. He assumes the role immediately.

Westmeath (SF): D Ryan; K McKinley, R Casey, F Murray; D Healy, AN Other, D Mitchell; R O'Connell, D Gavin; D Heavin, J Cooney, AN Other; J Fallon, M Flanagan, G Heavin.

Laois (SF): F Byron; G Ramsbottom, T Kelly, JP Kehoe; D Conroy, K Fitzpatrick, A Fennelly; J Kealy, D Sweeney; M Lawlor, H Emerson, C Parkinson; S Kelly, P Dunne, B McDonald.

Offaly (SF v Longford): K Furlong; C Daly, E Egan, J Brady; J Mitchell, S Grennan, F Curran; F Dunne, J Greene; R Malone, C Quinn, C McManus; D Ryan, M Keenaghan, V Claffey.