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Fit-again Rogers is back to his best for Down

By John Campbell

Just over two years ago Ambrose Rogers thought he had played his last game for Down.

A ruptured spleen sustained in an All Ireland Football Championship tie in Croke Park against Wexford threatened his entire sporting future.

But today Rogers (25) has not only resumed his playing career but is performing to the peak of his considerable powers at the highest level.

As captain of Down, he has led the side to an unbeaten surge in the National Football League to date and his individual contribution to their progress is reflected in the choice of Rogers as the Quinn Insurance Ulster GAA Writers Association monthly merit award winner for February.

Two towering performances against Kildare and Meath helped to thrust Rogers, now very much Down’s midfield anchor, further into the national spotlight and provided firm evidence that the team can remain on course to book a place in Division One next year. But Rogers, whose late father Ambrose senior was a Down icon in the 80’s, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground as the Mournemen prepare for stiff examinations against Donegal and Armagh spanning the next ten days.

“While I am absolutely delighted to have won this award, I see it as a reward for the team’s efforts so far. But we know we have a long way to go. Going to Ballybofey on Saturday will be a big test for us as Donegal will want to get back on the rails after their loss to Kildare while Armagh on the following Saturday will come to Newry with massive support behind them,” points out Rogers.

In dropping a point to Tipperary last weekend, Down have perhaps provided their closest rivals in Division Two with a window of opportunity to make up leeway. But Longstone clubman Rogers believes that his team is ready to respond to the demands they will now face.

“We know that our followers want success and we are very anxious to deliver this if we can at all. While it was great to get those victories over Kildare and Meath, we know that there are much bigger challenges ahead,” insists Rogers.

In winning the writers’ accolade, he fended off strong competition from St Gall’s shooting star C J McGourty as well as long-serving defensive ace Sean Kelly from the same club.

Also in the reckoning for the prize were Armagh forward Steven McDonnell who scored 1-15 in two matches in February and Antrim ace Paddy Cunningham who logged 1-13 in his two outings.

The inclusion of McGourty and Kelly in the frame for the writers’ prize is a further boost for St Gall’s as they prepare for their All Ireland Club Football final against Kilmurry/Ibrickane on St Patrick’s Day while Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke has hailed the fact that McDonnell was short-listed particularly as he has now brought his scoring haul to 1-22 from three games.

“Steven is playing great stuff at the moment and we’re just hoping that he will maintain his form. He has been outstanding for Armagh over the years and his appetite is as sharp as ever,” he said.

Cunningham’s pinpoint accuracy has had much to do with Antrim’s gallop through the early stages of the league and his shooting in the wins over Sligo, Cavan and Fermanagh has pleased manager Liam Bradley.

“Paddy is a proven marksman and he is very much on song right now. We are hoping that he will continue to hit the target when we play Roscommon on Sunday as victory there would help to cement our place in Division Three,” he said.

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