Freeman is supposedly ruled out of Monaghan’s Ulster SFC opener against Antrim because of a tweaked hamstring sustained in a challenge last month. Like captain Darren Hughes, Owen Lennon and Neil McAdam, Freeman has been omitted from the squad for tomorrow’s Ulster quarter-final through injury but McEneaney could yet spring a surprise.
McEneaney admitted: “Tommy is not out totally. I didn’t have him last year because he was away so the fact that he’s here is a bonus.”
McEneaney hasn’t had Freeman available for any big matches during his 18 months in charge so his enthusiasm is understandable.
Freeman was in America last year and missed the championship. His scoring power was badly missed as Monaghan crashed out to Tyrone and then Offaly in the qualifiers.
“Tommy is a class act,” said the Monaghan boss. “It is only when you actually work with Tommy that you realise how good he is and how good he can be. His attitude is top class, he’s got that hunger back.”
McEneaney also lost Conor McManus for the league campaign which ended with relegation to Division Three.
McManus does play tomorrow, as does Vinny Corey, Stephen Gallogly and Dessie Mone who were all missing at various stages last year.
“I have no doubt that if we’d had Conor and Tommy available for all seven league games we would have gone the other direction,’ claimed McEneaney, “because they are that good.”
“Three weeks is not a long time [for Freeman] to get over a tweaked hamstring. I would love to have him in top class fitness but he is there and he is in with a shout.”
McEneaney blooded a lot of new faces over the past year and a half. Players such as Kieran Duffy, James Turley and Christopher McGuinness now all have a season under their belts as they try to establish themselves in the team. There was a transitional process for a while but McEneaney believes they are ready now to take a big step forward together.
He said: “We are not as green as we were last year. The thing that has been very heartening is that they haven’t lost anything in terms of attitude and wanting to do better.
“Sometimes when boys lose their league status, they start pointing fingers or start losing faith but these lads haven’t. They realised they let themselves down in some of the games and they realise also that they’re not far away from beating anyone on any day.
“If we had won the division I couldn’t have asked any more of them in terms of honesty and commitment. We get over Antrim, and we get a bit of momentum. Liam Bradley is probably looking at it the same way. Everybody is in the same boat.”
MONAGHAN:M Keogh, D Morgan, V Corey, C Walshe, K O’Connell, D Mone, K Duffy, P Dooney, D Clerkin, M McKenna, S Gollogly, J Turley, C McGuinness, P Finlay, C McManus.
ANTRIM: C Kerr, A Healey, R Johnston, K O’Boyle, T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughery, M McCann, A Gallagher, C Murray, M Sweeney, M McAleese, P Cunningham, M Magill, T McCann.