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McArdle is keen for Mournemen to restore a bit of pride in 2017

By John Campbell

Just over 20 years ago, Down were the kingpins of Gaelic football, revelling in the glory of two All-Ireland titles (1991 and '94) and boasting a conveyor belt of talent that was the envy of practically every other county on the island.

Yet when they step out at the start of their Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup campaign next month, the Mourne County will be bidding to achieve the most modest goal in their history.

Throughout 2016, Down did not beat one other county side in a competitive match - their only win coming against St Mary's University College in the McKenna Cup way back in January.

Few could have envisaged Down's fall from grace, a proud county simply shunted among the also-rans of the sport .

But now that they will join Armagh, Derry and Queen's in Section A of the McKenna Cup next month, Down are fired up to regain at least some of the status and pride they surrendered this term.

Long-serving defender Brendan McArdle, 29 this year, has been through the highs and lows with the Mournemen over the course of the past decade and acknowledges that the target of chiselling out a win over another county team in the early part of 2017 is something of an embarrassment.

"There's no hiding it, this is where we are and the solution is in the hands of us as players," insisted McArdle.

Down slipped into Division Two of the league and having shipped a heavy defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster Championship (2-22 to 0-9), they subsequently exited the qualifiers at the hands of Longford.

Yet McArdle believes that it is not all doom and gloom.

"While a lot of people will understandably question the status of Down football within Ulster, I think Kilcoo have shown that football in the county is very competitive and is still at the top table in a club context, within the province as a whole," added McArdle.

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