Down manager James McCartan’s policy of rotating the captaincy of his team during the recent Allianz League has been hailed by county board secretary Sean Og McAteer as a “very positive element” in terms of the build-up to the Ulster Championship.
With Benny Coulter definitely ruled out and experienced trio Danny Hughes, Declan Rooney and Dan Gordon still battling to get fully fit for the flagship competition, there are fears that Down could lack leadership, particularly for the opening game against Fermanagh.
But long-serving official McAteer believes that McCartan’s ploy of spreading the burden of responsibility could yet reap dividends for a team seeking to end an 18-year Ulster title famine.
“We have a panel of players and each one of them would be worth his place in the starting side so whichever 15 start against Fermanagh and whichever players come in as substitutes will certainly be up to the task,” states a defiant McAteer.
“The fact that James rotated the captaincy means that a lot of players have had the opportunity to take on that added bit of responsibility.
“This is a very positive element as I see it.”
In lauding the contribution that players such as Coulter, Hughes and Gordon have made to Down’s cause over the course of recent years, McAteer nonetheless makes it clear that it is now time for others to assume front-stage roles in the bid to hoist Down onto the Ulster throne again.
“These players have given great service to Down and hopefully will continue to do so but there is now a chance for others to claim ownership of the side and set an example. This will be very important in the context of the Championship,” maintains McAteer.
Down reached the league semi-finals in which they were beaten by Cork but McAteer insists that their campaign helped to highlight the impact that a number of players have been making of late.
“We have people like Aidan Carr, Mark Poland, Aidan Brannigan, Peter Turley, Niall Brannigan, Arthur McConville and Damien Turley who have been doing well for us and obviously this enhances the manager’s selection options,” maintains McAteer.
The form of the youthful Niall McParland at wing-back and the consistency of Conor Laverty in attack are other plus-factors that Down will take into the game against Fermanagh.
“James McCartan has not been afraid to give players a chance and those who were blooded in the league have done extremely well. Because of this, our predicament in relation to injuries is not as bad as it might have been,” points out McAteer.
The form of Ambrose Rogers, too, infuses an added layer of confidence into the Down set-up.
“Ambrose was out from August 2010 until the start of this year, you might say, and the fact that he is absolutely flying just now is hugely encouraging for us.
“This game against Fermanagh is a big test for us but we will be ready for it, injuries or no injuries,” insists McAteer.