Down manager Ross Carr acknowledges that the absence of a number of established players could jettison his team’s chances of retaining the Gaelic Life Dr McKenna Cup.
But the possibility of new talent surfacing in the competition to perhaps bolster the team during the National League and Championship would more than offset any feeling of disappointment that might be experienced in the short term.
“While we would welcome success in the McKenna Cup, we have to set our goals higher,” observes Carr, “I think it is important that we get our blend right. We are missing some key players but they will be back. In the meantime, we must cast our net out in a bid to prop up our resources.”
His side open their Section B campaign against St Mary’s at Pairc Esler on Sunday (2.00) where the performance rather than the result will be of particular importance to Carr.
“We know that St Mary’s have been playing away in the Ryan Cup while we have been unable to train because of the ban on county training in November and December. Obviously they will have the edge in fitness but we will have to live with that,” says Carr.
Another university side hoping that fitness and cohesion will reap benefits today is UUJ who meet Donegal in their opening Section A encounter at Ballybofey.
Former Down mentor Barney McAleenan is now part of the UUJ set-up and is keen to see the students get off on the right foot in the competition.
“We have a good spirit within the side and the boys are very keen. But we know that new Donegal manager John Joe Doherty will be anxious to start with a win and take things on from there so we have to be prepared for a real battle. The fact that we have to travel to Ballybofey does not make it any easier,” admits McAleenan.
Donegal have a poor track record in the competition of late and boss Doherty would welcome an early-season boost as he begins the task of restoring morale and rekindling the county’s fortunes.