Ennis experience a big boost for young Westmeath - Flanagan
WESTMEATH football boss Pat Flanagan has hailed the welcome return of Michael Ennis, who started his first competitive inter-county game in 18 months against Offaly on Sunday.
Amid the early season gloom of an O'Byrne Cup defeat by their arch rivals, the return at centre-back of Ennis offered a ray of sunshine as the promoted Lake County contemplate a daunting quest for Division Two survival this spring.
"He went through a lot of injuries last year -- a serious shoulder injury which required an operation in the early part of the year, and when he came back he suffered knee problems," Flanagan told the Evening Herald.
"Thankfully those have cleared up and he was back to the Michael Ennis of old (against Offaly). He was one of our better players on the day. Having said that, it was a very, very young squad we had out - Michael was one of the older players and certainly he did stand out by a mile.
"He is fully committed for the year ahead and is training very, very hard. Hopefully he can stay injury-free because with the young squad, we need all his experience," the Offaly native concluded.
While Ennis couldn't stop Offaly (aided by a whirlwind start) running out 3-6 to 0-7 winners, his availability could prove crucial in shoring up a Westmeath defence that leaked 1-40 during their two championship outings last summer.
An All-Ireland U21 medallist in 1999, Ennis made his SFC debut that summer, coming off the bench during Westmeath's defeat by Laois.
He missed the following campaign with a cruciate injury but - for the rest of the noughties - was a virtual summer ever-present.
From 2001 through to 2010, Ennis featured in every championship game bar two Leinster outings in '03 - an opening round win over Carlow and the drawn match with Meath.
Of the other 43 SFC games played during this roller-coaster period, the forward-turned-defender started 41 and appeared twice as substitute. He had the distinction of starting every Westmeath qualifier (of which there were many) during this decade.
But that all changed last summer when, having battled back from a major shoulder operation that saw him miss the league, knee trouble left him sidelined for their provincial implosion in Wexford and subsequent 'back door' exit to Antrim.
Prior to last Sunday, his previous competitive outing was the qualifier defeat by Derry in July 2010 - Ennis served as captain that year.
The Ballinagore clubman is one of the few survivors from Westmeath's maiden Leinster title triumph in 2004 while his dynamic bursts from wing-back earned him an All Star nomination in 2008.