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Down boss on the up after injury nightmare

By John Campbell

If nothing else, the opening round of the National Football League persuaded Down manager James McCartan that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Forty-eight hours before his side confronted Donegal at Pairc Esler McCartan admitted that no fewer than twelve players from his squad were unavailable to him.

And this almost inevitably led to doubts being cast on Down’s ability to survive in the top bracket this season.

Yet McCartan’s hastily-constructed fusion of youth and experience managed to garner what could yet prove to be two extremely important points at the expense of the Ulster champions.

And while the win afforded McCartan considerable satisfaction, the contribution of substitutes Conor Garvey, Ambrose Rogers and Eoin McCartan was a bonus on a night when the manager’s worst fears were allayed.

“Conor had been troubled by an ankle injury and a knee problem and he had just got over these when he hurt his shoulder against Crossmaglen in a challenge match. We did not expect to have him on board until the third game in the league but the fact that he was able to turn out for us and actually score against Donegal was a big plus,” says McCartan.

Rogers and Eoin McCartan are slowly but surely attaining full match fitness and there was another bonus for Down yesterday when Kevin McKernan returned from Australia where he had been travelling for the past few months.

McKernan will re-join the Mourne squad this week and is likely to be in the party for the trip to Cork on Sunday.

The Burren clubman has been Down’s regular centre-half-back for some time now but with Liam Doyle having settled comfortably into that position manager McCartan could find himself with interesting selection options.

McCartan is hoping too that Declan Rooney, a former captain and a player capable of playing in more than one position, will be available for the third league game against Kerry on March 3.

Rooney has been a long-term injury victim but played a key role in bringing Burren to the county championship title in 2010.

Another player who could see action against the Kingdom is Conor Maginn who is also working to attain full fitness after injury

But Anto McArdle and Kalum King are still suspended while Paul McComiskey, a capable, enterprising forward, has withdrawn from the panel, citing recurring injury problems.

“Slowly but surely we are getting people back on board and that’s encouraging. Obviously we have some very tough games coming up against teams like Cork, Kerry and Dublin so we need to have plenty of cover. Our aim will be to stay in Division One and if we can get anything out of our trip to Cork this week-end that will be a major help,” says McCartan.

Such has been the extent of McCartan’s worries in relation to injuries and suspensions that he

has been unable as yet to confirm who will captain the side.

But all is expected to become clearer on this front prior to the resumption of the National League at the start of next month.

“Our focus is on trying to get a result against Cork. Obviously Armagh did very well against them last Sunday but we know that at home Cork will be very difficult. They are the reigning National League champions and I think

they will still want to keep their title if they can,” says McCartan.

Cork manager Conor Counihan will be without captain Paul Kerrigan who has been handed a two-match ban by the Central Competitions Control Committee following his red card against Armagh last Sunday.

Patrick Kelly and Colm O’Neill, who missed the game against the orchard county after failing late fitness tests, will be back in the frame for selection for Sunday.

Mark Collins and Fiachra Lynch, who were their eleventh-hour replacements against Paddy O’Rourke’s side, will also be pressing for slots against Down.

Counihan has made it very clear that he is expecting a big improvement from his side this time out.

“We would be very disappointed with various aspects of our play against Armagh. We turned over the ball and made a host of other mistakes. We failed to protect our possession and now we have to move on and learn from that,” declared Counihan.

Cork’s seven wides in the first-half convinced Counihan that there is a need for much greater accuracy from his forwards.

“We should have got a few more scores but some of the ball we gave away was disappointing.

“We cannot afford to miss the same amount of chances against Down who will come to us encouraged by that showing against Donegal which has got them an early couple of points,” added Counihan.

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