The possibility that Down manager James McCartan may yet be forced to amend his midfield pairing for the All Ireland football semi-final against Kildare on August 29 has tempered the pre-match sense of anticipation that has engulfed the county.
In overcoming Sligo in the All Ireland qualifiers and then Kerry in the quarter-final, skipper Ambrose Rogers and Kalum King formed the central platform on which these important victories were built.
But the knee ligament damage sustained by Rogers while assisting Longstone in their Down championship win over Liatroim Fontenoys on Sunday has posed a question mark over his availability for duty against Kieran McGeeney’s men, who themselves are anxiously awaiting the return of midfield talisman Dermot Earley.
Indeed, the feeling within Down right now is that the presence of Rogers in the engine-room will be a prerequisite for victory over the Lily Whites who have been showing impressive form lately.
Down’s longest-serving player Benny Coulter is in no doubt that Rogers can help provide the dynamic that could take the county into a first All Ireland final in 16 years.
“Our team has taken on a more settled look in recent matches and I’m sure our manager James McCartan would be very loathe to have to make big changes now. Ambrose’s ball-winning capacity
and his bursts forward from the middle form an important part of our arsenal and the fact that he has been using his experience to help Kalum King has also been a major help,” points out Coulter.
The combined workrate of Rogers and King had much to do with Down’s win over Kerry and with the hitherto unsung Darryl Flynn having now emerged strongly as a potent force in his own right in the Kildare midfield, the Mourne County will require their heavy artillery to be in place to curb the threat he may pose.
“When Dermot Earley went off injured early on against Meath, Kildare were able to bring in Mick Foley and the team certainly did not lose their momentum because of this. And this just goes to show how necessary it will be for us to be at our strongest in midfield. Dermot is reportedly making good progress from his injury and that has to be encouraging for Kildare,” adds Coulter.
McCartan’s bold decision to blood 20-year-old rookie King earlier in the year has certainly borne fruit but the Down boss makes the point that the Bryansford strongman is still in his first championship season.
“Kalum has done very well for us. But we are now going in against a Kildare side that is well-known for its midfield strength. Ambrose Rogers is a big player for us in every sense as well as being captain but we have to face up to the situation we are in. We are awaiting a further medical report on his injured knee and then we will know better what his chances of recovery are,” says McCartan.
In the possible absence of Rogers, McCartan may be forced to bring Dan Gordon out from full-back to the central area and perhaps opt for Brendan McArdle or Declan Rooney at full-back. Or he may start Peter Fitzpatrick at midfield but Gordon’s experience and physicality would make him a prime candidate for this role, particularly given the strength of the opposition in this sector.