Down skipper Ambrose Rogers has undergone yet more surgery which will preclude his involvement in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition.
Rogers, who suffered a ruptured spleen some years ago in a match against Wexford at Croke Park and subsequently incurred a serious cruciate ligament injury, now finds himself sidelined because of a knee problem.
The Longstone powerhouse showed glimpses of his best form this year although Down suffered heavy defeats in the Ulster final against Donegal and in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo.
He has formed a solid midfield partnership with Kalum King but manager James McCartan will now consider fresh permutations for the McKenna Cup in which Down will open their campaign against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday.
Rogers, whose late father Ambrose snr gave superb service to the Mourne county in the Eighties, is anxious to see Down’s image as a football force restored in 2013, according to county PRO Paul Rooney.
“Ambrose is naturally disappointed to miss out on the opening matches of the year but is hopeful that he will be involved in the Allianz League,” explains Rooney.
“We will be meeting the top-flight teams in Division One and we certainly could be doing with his experience.”
Kevin McKernan, Benny Coulter, Danny Hughes and Conor Laverty are players on whom McCartan is likely to lean for inspiration although he is also poised to give a competitive baptism to several newcomers this month as a prelude to possible league action.
Even though he did not play against Meath in the Ryan Doyle appeal fund game on Saturday, skipper Rogers played his part at a subsequent function when he handed over the proceeds of the game to the Doyle family via the Liatroim Fontenoys club.
Ryan, who had been a member of the Laoitrim club which has its headquarters close to Castlewellan, was killed in a road traffic accident in Australia earlier this month and his funeral took place last week.
“We are grateful to Meath for forming the opposition to Down in Saturday’s game that helped to raise funds for the Ryan family who found themselves immersed in a very tragic situation indeed,” says PRO Rooney.
Meanwhile, Down’s fitness and stamina are expected to be very much in focus during the McKenna Cup competition.
The squad have been following detailed personal programmes recently and already the influence of Dr Niall Moyna is being felt although Rooney maintains that the real benefits of the new structures can only be assessed under match conditions.
“Given recent weather conditions, grounds could well be on the heavy side and this could take its own toll on players. Obviously every side will be keen to get off to a good start — the days of the McKenna Cup being viewed as something of a gentle warm-up are long gone,” insists Rooney.