O'Keeffe's net spreads wide
Ireland manager John O'Keeffe yesterday named 67 players - 15 more than the initial panel of a year ago - from which he will choose his final panel of 27 to contest the International Rules series against Australia in October.
Five more counties are also represented in the preliminary panel compared to last year. O'Keeffe outlined the reasons behind the wider spread at a press briefing in Croke Park, and also his hopes for the two Test games in Perth on Friday, October 24th and in Melbourne a week later.
"I felt it was better to give players an initial chance, and let them off after a trial or two if they weren't up to it, rather than missing out on someone. So we have to spread the net a little farther to start off with," he said. "And the panel is also open-ended. So it will change as time moves on, especially as we take in the remaining championship games and watch very closely for performances. And I do envisage some additions."
O'Keeffe is joined by his same three selectors of a year ago - Fermanagh's Peter McGinnity, former Offaly star Matt Connor and Martin Carney, the former Donegal and Mayo player. O'Keeffe's former Kerry colleague Ger Power will again act as the team runner and Kerry's Seamus Moynihan as captain.
The trials and training sessions will start next Friday week at the Ballymun facility in Dublin. Players, though, have yet to be given the chance to commit to the team, which might rule a certain number out before the trials even begin.
O'Keeffe was also intent on adding a slightly different flavour to his panel this year, which might account for the initial absence of some familiar International Rules servants, such as Graham Geraghty and Michael Donnellan.
"I was particularly interested in finding new players. There are some players who had played with the team for the past few years, and I think it was important to get players who are very keen to make the panel and would take a lot of pride form wearing the Irish jersey.
"I was interested too in the players from those so-called weaker counties. I feel sometimes that if players are regularly coming to Croke Park, and competing for All-Ireland medals, that can take all their focus. Whereas someone who never gets that opportunity is still well capable of playing at this level, like say Ciarán McManus, who has given tremendous service to this concept."
The form teams do take priority, however, with six players from both Tyrone and Donegal, five from Armagh, and four from Galway.
The fact that only three Kerry players have so far been named - three less than Tyrone, their All-Ireland semi-final opponents - wasn't missed by O'Keeffe. The Kerry trainer and selector wasn't ruling out a few more additions from his native county.
Geraghty's initial exclusion was the main talking point yesterday. "It was just a decision we came to, and you could have asked it about various players. But I was very keen to bring players in who are in great form this year, and not last year, or are just there on reputation."
Sligo's Eamonn O'Hara, another of the more successful craftsman of the compromised game, was ruled out because a groin operation.
As for the challenge represented by the hosts in what will be the sixth edition of the series since its revival in 1998, O'Keeffe observed: "I believe the Australians are getting more familiar with the game each year, and are improving. Now they're actually copping on to what it takes to win these matches, and are using smaller, quicker and more skilful players. And also getting better with the round ball."
The final number of Irish-based players will be 26. Tadgh Kennelly, who plays with the Sydney Swans, has been assured of his inclusion. The panel will be finalised around the time of the All-Ireland football final on September 28th.
PRELIMINARY PANEL: C Sullivan, T Giles, D Fay, E Kelly (all Meath); P Christie, C Whelan, S Ryan, S Cluxton (all Dublin); M Forde (Wexford); D Earley, J Doyle, E Murphy, A Rainbow (all Kildare); T Kelly, B McDonald, P Clancy, J Higgins (all Laois); C McManus, C Daly (both Offaly); D Dolan, D Healy (both Westmeath); P Barden (Longford); A Lynch, G Canty, C Corkery (all Cork); D O'Keeffe, S Moynihan, D Ó Sé (all Kerry); J Galvin, S Kelly (both Limerick); D Browne (Tipperary); D Heaney, J Gill (both Mayo); J Bergin, M Clancy, P Joyce, D Meehan (all Galway); D Casey, G Cox, S O'Neill (all Roscommon); K Cassidy, B Devenney, A Sweeney, P McGonigle, J Gildea, S Carr (all Donegal); SM Lockhart, E Muldoon, N McCusker (all Derry); B Coulter, D Gordon (both Down); S McDonnell, P McGrane, D Marsden, K McGeeney, J McEntee (all Armagh); T Freeman (Monaghan); B Owens (Fermanagh); S Cavanagh, C McAnallen, P Canavan, C Holmes, K Hughes, E Mulligan (all Tyrone); M Farrelly (Louth); S Canning (Leitrim); T Kennelly (Kerry/Sydney Swans).