by Orla Bannon
Monaghan will be without All Star nominee Niall Kearns and Kieran Hughes for a sizeable chunk of the spring, with Kearns ruled out of the entire Allianz League campaign as he recovers from a heart operation.
The young midfielder had a brilliant rookie inter-county season in 2018, getting a deserved All Star nomination as Monaghan reached a first All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 30 years.
Kearns had heart surgery in a Dublin hospital in October, which will require months of rest and recuperation before he can resume his football career.
“Niall's had a heart operation so he won't be seen until at least the end of the league campaign,” said Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke.
“He has a fair recovery period ahead of him.
“He had a problem with his heart last year.
“Apparently it's a problem he's had since he was a young lad and it flared up a bit during the championship season.
“It was decided this was the time to get something done to hopefully prolong his career.”
Kearns made his championship debut in the Ulster championship opening round win over Tyrone in Omagh and made rapid progress all summer.
He was still in the starting fifteen when Monaghan lost out to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final and will be a significant loss during the Allianz League.
“It was a fairly serious operation so he will need a fair bit of time to get himself back ready again,” added O'Rourke.
Kieran Hughes will also be absent when Monaghan kick off the league campaign at home to champions Dublin at Clones in two weeks time.
The Scotstown man has been carrying a niggling hamstring injury for some time and O'Rourke would like the problem resolved once and for all.
“Kieran Hughes is still struggling with the hamstring and he's definitely not going to be there for the start of the national league at least.
“I don't know how far into the league it will be before we see him.
“He's been carrying that from the championship last year. He wasn't able to train with us a lot of the time.
“He's still not right and we're trying to clear it up as best we can rather than doing something to make it worse.
“He's in the best hands. The physios are top class and hopefully we'll get him right rather than it lingering on and him not being at his best at any stage of the year.”
Monaghan are now an established Division One side and stunned the Dubs in Croke Park last year, though the All-Ireland champions already had one foot in the final.
They also beat Kerry during an impressive league campaign and begin this year's campaign at Clones.
“Our first game is at home to Dublin and they don't lose too many games,” added O'Rourke.
“We've been delighted to stay in Division One this last number of years but we have to prepare well because there are no guarantees in that division.”