Down manager James McCartan may put his trust in 18-year-old Caolan Mooney in a bid to bring his side further along the All Ireland football qualifier road.
Mooney, who helped St Colman’s College, Newry win both the MacRory and Hogan Cups earlier this year, made his senior county debut in Down’s first round qualifying win over Clare (1-13 to 1-12) and is now in line for a central role against Leitrim at Pairc Esler, Newry on Saturday.
Named at half-forward against Clare, Mooney actually found himself more involved in the cut and thrust of the midfield exchanges and acquitted himself creditably.
Now his work ethic in the middle third is seen as a potential weapon against a Leitrim side that is anxious to make amends for their Connacht semi-final defeat to Roscommon.
Mooney is due to embark on a career in Australian Rules football at the end of the summer, but before then there is a strong chance that he could lay down a marker as a significant addition to the Mourne squad.
While the emergence of the colleges’ star is a bonus for Down, manager McCartan still has serious injury concerns.
Daniel McCartan, Conor Garvey and Damien Rafferty, all of whom played in last year’s All Ireland final against Cork, were missing from his defence against Clare and are out of Saturday’s game.
Daniel Hughes also missed the trip to Cusack Park, Ennis because of a hamstring injury, but the Saval clubman is expected to be fit to face Leitrim with manager McCartan likely to persevere with Paul McComiskey and Conor Lavery as his strike force.
It was a last-gasp goal line clearance by the ubiquitous Lavery that helped ease Down to safety against Clare.
Gerald McCartan is also unavailable right now meaning that Down’s defensive cover is even more limited while skipper Ambrose Rogers is continuing to build up his fitness levels by turning out for his club Longstone, but he isn’t expected to return to county action in the immediate future. His absence is being more acutely felt since Down have had problems at midfield.
Kalum King hasn’t been able to recapture the form he displayed last year while Peter Fitzpatrick, who initially made an impact in the under-21 sector, is still finding his feet at the higher level.
Leitrim created an upset by beating fancied Sligo in the quarter-finals of the Connacht championship prior to their eclipse by Roscommon and manager Mickey Moran is upbeat that his team can progress in the qualifiers.
The return of the experienced Emelyn Mulligan to the side is a boost and although the county has been hard hit by emigration, Moran is hopeful that the carrot of claiming what would be deemed a significant scalp will bring the best out in his side.