McCartan out to have plenty left in reserve
Down manager James McCartan may yet take a leaf from Jim McGuinness's book as he prepares for Sunday's important Ulster Championship clash with Derry at Celtic Park.
McGuinness provided a master-class in tactical substitutions when he introduced Ross Wherity, Martin McElhinney and Karl Lacey to steer his side over the line against Tyrone.
Now McCartan could be faced with the option of sending on Danny Hughes and perhaps Aidan Carr for the closing segment of a tie that evokes warm memories of classic encounters between the counties in the past.
Hughes played no part in the Allianz League but was given some game time in recent challenge games while Carr, who has been suffering from a knee injury, came through an in-house game at the weekend with no ill-effects.
Ambrose Rogers, though, is expected to start although it is not certain if he will be allocated a midfield berth or deployed in the half-forward line from where his marauding surges could discomfit the Oak Leaf defence.
Kevin McKernan and Kalum King have formed a physically imposing if somewhat inconsistent partnership at midfield but manager James McCartan may be prepared to give them another vote of evidence.
When Down finished their league campaign on an encouraging note by overcoming Kildare by 3-8 to 0-9, Declan Rooney wore the No 6 shirt in the absence of Carr and was extremely effective, blocking out the Lily Whites' scoring avenues.
Carr, a Dublin-based IT company executive, had given Down sterling service at half-forward and wing-back before assuming his new role at the core of the defence, a move that was necessitated because of the long-term injury which has kept Liam Doyle out of action.
Rooney, a former Down captain currently playing his club football in Dublin where he lives and works, may get the nod again on Sunday with Ryan Mallon and perhaps Damien Turley in the wing-back roles.
But Down have even more cause for regret right now that Paul McComiskey, Darren O'Hagan and Arthur McConville withdrew from their squad recently.
"It's in the championship in particular that you need strength in depth," points out PRO Paul Rooney.
"While you can blood players in the league you simply cannot afford to take chances in the championship where the pace is a good deal sharper and the exchanges much more physical.
"While we were very pleased to finish our league programme with that win over Kildare, we know that Derry have been going well and will feel confident especially as they have home advantage."
Down were singularly unfortunate to lose their league games to Tyrone and Cork in particular and manager McCartan is hoping that the side will learn from a frustrating campaign.
"While it was disappointing to be relegated in the league, we were not far away in some of the games we lost especially those against Tyrone and Cork and if we can replicate that skill and spirit on Sunday we maybe will have a chance of winning," points out McCartan.