Burns gets Down to business for even bigger test
Down certainly did not have their sorrows to seek this year, a seven-match losing streak that culminated in relegation in the league being followed by a summary dismissal from the Ulster championship at the hands of Monaghan and expulsion from the qualifiers in Longford.
Yet the occasional ray of hope for the future pierced the gloom. Downpatrick defender Gerard Collins provided one such crumb of comfort through his consistency and is currently replicating the fine form he showed in the red and black jersey in his club colours.
And this will certainly please Down boss Eamon Burns as he assesses talent in the domestic championship. Burns faces an even more demanding assignment in 2017 as he must strive to get Down back up into Division One and try to plot long overdue championship progress.
Downpatrick created something of a surprise in the club championship when they beat Longstone by 2-10 to 2-5 and they now get the chance to further press their title claims when they face a Rostrevor team this afternoon at Castlewellan (5.00pm) that could prove dark horses.
Kilcoo find themselves in the rather unusual position of having to make up leeway in the championship when they confront Loughinisland at Newcastle tomorrow (3.30pm) in what should be a lively clash.
Kilcoo have won the last four championship titles but their opening round defeat to Burren by 2-10 to 1-7 has served to dent morale to some extent within their ranks.
Both sides were missing key players in that game in which Kilcoo's discipline let them down to some extent and now they will be keen to keep themselves in the title reckoning.
Manager Paul McIver is far from pressing the Kilcoo panic button but acknowledges that his team will have to show much more composure and cohesion if they hope to maintain their recent splendid record in the competition.
Loughinisland will look to former Down ace Dan Gordon to spark their challenge.
Castlewellan will face Longstone at Pairc Esler tomorrow (8.00pm) having put up a sturdy display before losing to Bryansford 1-13 to 1-11 and now hope to get back on track.
They will look to Kevin Duffin and David Gilmore in particular to set the tone for their display against a Longstone side which has the experienced Mark Poland as its axis.
Meanwhile, three Fermanagh players - Chris Snow, Ryan McCluskey and Marty O'Brien - are understood to be considering their futures.
The possibility that the trio could step away from Peter McGrath's squad has set alarm bells ringing in the county which has already lost Niall Cassidy to retirement.