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Down lose a few... but the big names are back

By John Campbell

The recent exodus from the Down squad that saw Martin Clarke, Caolan Mooney, Peter Fitzpatrick and James Colgan travel to seek a new life on the other side of the world has further fermented the belief that James McCartan’s team could struggle in 2012.

But as he prepares to draw up his preliminary panel in advance of the Dr McKenna Cup, McCartan has been handed a considerable boost.

Damian Rafferty, who missed a significant portion of this year’s championship campaign, is aiming to reclaim his place in the defence, ex-skipper Declan Rooney is making good progress following his cruciate ligament injury and wing-back Conor Garvey has regained full fitness.

The anticipated return of this tranche of experience is expected to be complemented by an influx of fresh faces.

Burren duo Donal O’Hare and Conal McGovern impressed in their team’s surge into the Ulster club final, the Turley brothers Peter and John have been catching the eye with the Downpatrick club lately and Marcus Miskelly has blossomed into an outstanding player with Darragh Cross.

Down chairman Seamus Walsh has expressed the hope that the loss of seasoned players will not be viewed as a major setback to the team’s prospects.

“Obviously we are disappointed to have lost such a talented group of players who have now left this country but we feel we now have key men coming back from injury and others who are prepared to make a strong bid for places in the side,” states Walsh.

“This is very encouraging.”

Ambrose Rogers, who missed all of this year because of injury, returned to club action back in October with Longstone and is expected to don the Down jersey again in the New Year, perhaps as captain once more.

“We got to the All-Ireland final in 2010 and that whetted our appetite for glory,” says Walsh.

“But we will take things one step at a time.

“The McKenna Cup will give us an indication of where we are at and then we will see how we go in the National League.

“An Ulster Championship title would be on our radar but there are eight other counties with the same ambition,” adds Walsh, who will address delegates at the County Convention in the Canal Court Hotel in Newry tonight.

During this Walsh will exhort all units of the Association within Down to get behind the county football and hurling sides next year so that success can be achieved.

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