Down manager James McCartan will be forced to field a new-look defence for tomorrow night’s Dr McKenna Cup opener against St Mary’s now that several high-profile regulars will be missing.
Declan Rooney, Brendan McArdle, Damien Rafferty, Dan Gordon, Conor Garvey and Daniel McCartan will all be absentees when Paddy Tally’s side come to Pairc Esler, Newry in the hope of surprising last year’s All Ireland finalists.
It was only in the last 48 hours that Down’s rather threadbare defensive resources became apparent but manager McCartan is certainly not reaching for the panic button.
“We have some players out through injury and others because they are on honeymoon,” he said.
“Obviously at this time of the year managers are never quite sure who they have on board but nonetheless we will have players who will be keen to show what they can do against St Mary’s.”
Conor Poland, brother of Mark, may get a chance to impress while Conor Maginn is another who may get game time in attack.
McCartan’s chief concern is that as many of his established defenders as possible will be back in time for his team’s demanding Division One National League itinerary which begins early next month.
Meanwhile, Barry Owens has been named as Fermanagh’s new captain by manager John O’Neill and is expected to lead the side against UUJ tomorrow night at Brewster Park, Enniskillen.
Owens has spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines because of injuries and heart problems but it is understood that he is now fully fit and raring to go.
The Teemore Shamrocks player won an Allstars award a few years ago and is still regarded as one of the best full-backs in the country.
Manager O’Neill has already made it clear that his priority this season is to get the side out of Division Four of the National League.
“After we play UUJ tomorrow night we will be meeting Tyrone and Donegal in the McKenna Cup later this month and these are the kind of games that will really put us on our toes for the league. They will certainly give us a taste of what is to come,” he said.
And while Fermanagh will seek an early boost, Cavan boss Val Andrews is hoping that his team will be able to cope with what he expects to be a feisty challenge from the students of Queen’s University at Kingspan Breffni Park tomorrow night.
Seanie Johnston will be an absentee from the Cavan side but Andrews and his assistant Terry Hyland believe they have a number of young players who can step up and make an impact in the competition.
Cavan were lucky to avoid relegation from Division Three last year and will need to show a marked improvement if they are to impress this year.