Niall Kearns 'mad keen to get back' - but Monaghan will continue to tread carefully
MONAGHAN will continue to take a softly, softly approach with midfielder Niall Kearns as he works his way back after undergoing heart surgery at the end of last year.
Having nailed down a starting spot at the start of 2018, the 21-year-old made a huge impression and his influence has been missed as the Farneymen have struggled for form at times through the League.
Farney boss Malachy O'Rourke is hopeful that the Sean McDermott's man will come back into the fold come Championship time, but insists that although Kearns in “mad keen to get back”, he won't be rushed into a return.
“We would be having ongoing dialogue with him and the medical people as well. He's coming on great and he's mad keen to get back, but there's a certain timeline that we have to follow.
“As I said from the start, the most important thing is that he's healthy and able to live his life in the best way possibly, and hopefully that will include getting back to full strength on the football field and that's certainly the way it's looking at the minute.
“We'll support him in whatever way we can and when he's ready to come back we'll be only too happy to have him.”
Another man who won't feature until the summer at the earliest is Kieran Hughes as he battles back from a hamstring injury.
The versatile Scotstown man was involved in his club's fourth Monaghan title success in-a-row last year, with An Bhoth later coming up just short in their search for Ulster glory when falling to Gaoth Dobhair at the final hurdle in December.
But Hughes has not been seen with ball in hand since, and O'Rourke does not expect him to be involved in their crucial relegation shoot-outs against Cavan in Clones this weekend, or away to Mayo on the final day.
“It doesn't look like he's going to make the games in the next few weeks, no,” said the Farney boss.
“It's just the same problem as he had last year. He has had an ongoing problem with his hamstring, he got through the club season but he was never happy with it.
“We just took the decision at the start that, rather than going through and having the same dilemma as last year about not being at full pace, we just decided to bite the bullet and make sure he got the proper medical care to try and get him back fully fit.
“That's where it is at the minute, and I suppose we're just waiting on the medical people to tell us he's ready to go again. Until such times as that happens we'll just work on without him, but he's with the panel and he's working away in the background.”
After starting like a house on fire with victory over All-Ireland champions Dublin at a packed St Tiernach's Park, defeat to Roscommon the next day out has been followed by reversals against Galway, Tyrone and Kerry.
That winless streak has left them fighting for their Division One status heading into this weekend's crunch clash with their fellow basement strugglers from the Breffni County.
“In many ways it's a great way to be finishing the League,” added O'Rourke.
“We know we have to perform to our best, that we need a really good performance if we're going to win the game, and that puts us on high alert.
“You're really finishing the League with two knockout Championship matches.”