Rookies, injuries and squad depth – what football teams have experimented most?

TYRONE’S FIRST WIN of the Division 1 campaign arrived against Kildare on Sunday despite the absence of a number of established players. 

There were minus the services of the four (Peter Harte, Kieran McGeary, Padraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan) that shipped red cards in round 2 against Armagh plus injured pair Ronan McNamee and Mattie Donnelly.

The nature of their second-half fightback against the Lilywhites was even more impressive given the five players that departed the Red Hand panel during the off-season.

Mark Bradley, Tiernan McCann, Ronan O’Neill, Hugh Pat McGeary and Michael Cassidy all walked away after winning their All-Ireland medals last season. Their exits left question marks over Tyrone’s bench strength as they face into the defence of their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns in 2022. 

The Red Hand infused the panel with talent from the vibrant club championship over the winter. 

“We had a lot of changes, a lot of changes in general this year with men returning and things like that,” said joint manager Feargal Logan after the game. 

“That’s what a panel is for. That’s the value from today, the take-home message, those boys there.”

Nathan Donnelly was a new call-up after his consistent performances for Killyclogher in recent club campaigns and he’s started all three league games so far.

Padraig McNulty, who made his debut under Mickey Harte in 2015, rejoined the panel, having last featured in 2018. He was recalled after showing strong form for Dungannon Clarkes, who he skippered to the Tyrone SFC title in 2020. 

McNulty became the 25th player to see game-time for Tyrone in the Allianz Football League.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising given they are the reigning All-Ireland champions with a panel of players mainly in their mid-to-late 20s, but Tyrone have not been one of the counties who’ve cast the net wide in search of talent in Division 1 so far. 

Only two sides have experimented less than the Red Hand: Monaghan and Kerry.

As a county with a small playing pool, the Farney have regularly been the team who’ve used the least amount of players over league campaigns in recent years.

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Seamus McEnaney has tended to put out his strongest available team since returning to the job, and he required just 23 players in their first three outings. Veteran marksman Conor McManus arrived off the bench in the opening two rounds before he started against Armagh last weekend, in a game where Kieran Hughes made his seasonal bow. 

Jack O’Connor lifted the Division 1 crown on three occasions in the 2000s as Kingdom boss and consistency of selection, with 24 players fielded so far, indicates he’s looking to challenge for spring honours again in 2022. 

Dan O’Donoghue has been a welcome addition to Kerry in defence.

Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Dan O’Donoghue, Greg Horan and Dylan Casey were Kerry’s three debutants so far in the league, while injured players such as David Moran, Stefan Okunbor and new captain Joe O’Connor will come into the mix down the line. 

With survival in the top flight all but assured, O’Connor did promise greater experimentation across the remaining fixtures. Jack Savage and Tony Brosnan, for instance, should be afforded a couple of starts after making substitute appearances in all three games. 

For some teams, the short gap between league and championship has increased the necessity to get key men up to speed in the spring but for others, such as Dublin, there remains a need to explore their panel for potential championship starters.

Dublin have handed game-time to 29 players inside the first three weekends of action, more than any other team in the division bar Mayo. 

In Dessie Farrell’s first league campaign in 2020, Dublin used 38 players and heavy experimentation remains a feature two years later.

The Sky Blues, who introduced 14 new squad members this year, are rooted to the bottom of the table after shipping three straight defeats but the manager has insisted their focus remains on the championship. 

Lee Gannon, Cameron McCormack, Ross McGarry, Lorcan O’Dell, Darragh Conlon, Killian McGinnis, CJ Smith, Alex Wright and Harry Ladd all made their league debuts over the past few weeks – by far the most of any county.

Emmet O Conghaile and Cian Murphy, who’ve been on the fringes of squads in the past, have logged minutes and 29-year-old Ryan Basquel started two games and came off the bench in a third. 

Considering James McCarthy, Con O’Callaghan, Robbie McDaid, Paddy Small have yet to come into contention, Dublin’s figure by the end of the league could well extend to the high 30s once again. 

Mayo are level with Dublin on 29 players used as they examine their options ahead of the summer.

Seven members of James Horan’s squad made their first appearances of the season against Dublin on Saturday night. 34-year-old Kevin McLoughlin was eased back into action after his extended club campaign with Knockmore, as established stars Oisin Mullin, Matthew Ruane and Enda Hession also returned. 

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Aidan Orme grabbed a goal on his second appearance in Division 1.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Donnacha McHugh,  Jack Carney and Sam Callinan, the latest athletic wing-back to emerge from the county, were their only league debutants to date as Aidan Orme made his Division 1 bow, having appeared in the second tier last year.

Other familiar names such as James Carr and Cillian O’Connor will return from injury in the coming weeks.

Shane O’Donnell was Donegal’s most impressive rookie blooded under Declan Bonner, scoring two points as they struggled for long spells away to Kerry. Donegal are third in the table on 28 players tested, with Charles McGuinness, Mark Curran and Rory O’Donnell their other notable newcomers.

Donegal have been badly hampered by injury to date. Caolan McGonigle, Michael Murphy and Michael Langan all appeared in the first round but were forced to miss recent games.

However, Oisin Gallen and Daire Ó Baoill made their seasonal debuts in Killarney after recovering from problems and will add depth to Bonner’s panel. Jamie Brennan hasn’t seen a minute yet as he recovers from injury.

In fourth place on the players fielded table is Division 1 newcomers Kildare, who’ve mixed battling for points with getting a look at 27 players.

11 of those have started their encounters with Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone. In the third game, Glenn Ryan welcomed back Alex Beirne, Fergal Conway and Darragh Kirwan from injury off the bench. That trio are likely to come into contention for starting places in the weeks ahead, adding to Kildare’s depth.

Despite their strong start to the year, Armagh have spread minutes around the panel. Kieran McGeeney has used 26 players across their three games, leaving them ahead of Tyrone, Kerry and Monaghan.

Conor Turbitt and Oisin O’Neill became the latest two to make league appearances after their arrived off the bench against Monaghan. 

But McGeeney’s first XV has been remarkably consistent, with 13 players starting all three ties against Dublin, Tyrone and Monaghan.

Players used in Division 1 after 3 games

  • Dublin – 29
  • Mayo – 29
  • Donegal – 28
  • Kildare – 27
  • Armagh – 26
  • Tyrone – 25
  • Kerry – 24
  • Monaghan – 23

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