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GAA: U-turn puts Down's Ronan Murtagh in the frame for starting place against Kerry

By John Campbell

Less than a month ago Ronan Murtagh decided that he did not have a future with Down and walked away from James McCartan’s squad.

The experienced forward had grown tired of warming the Mourne bench as the team began their voyage through the All Ireland football qualifiers, having fallen to Tyrone in the semi-final of the Ulster Championship.

Today busy plastering sub-contractor Murtagh is contemplating a rather different sporting future.

Shortly after withdrawing from the panel, the Ballyholland clubman was prevailed upon to return and now, with Down having chalked up three qualifier wins on the bounce, 28-year-old Murtagh is in the frame for a starting place in this weekend’s quarter-final battle against reigning All Ireland champions Kerry.

Against Offaly two weeks ago Murtagh fulfiled a cameo role as a substitute in a none-too-convincing team performance that culminated in a 1-12 to 0-10 win, but when he was pitched into the action again as a sub in last Saturday’s qualifier against Sligo, Murtagh promptly helped himself to 1-5 as Down careered to a handsome 3-20 to 0-10 win.

Now manager James McCartan is carefully weighing up his selection options in advance of the showdown with the Kingdom conscious that the experience and guile which Murtagh can bring to the table could prove valuable assets in the heat of Croke Park.

McCartan, who had been seeking an improvement in his team’s form despite those wins over Longford and Offaly, believes they are now mentally and physically right for a confrontation with Jack O’Connor’s men who have had ample time to prepare for this tie following their Munster final victory over Limerick.

“We have been in constant action over the past few weeks and it remains to be seen if this will prove a bonus or a handicap when we face Kerry,” muses McCartan.

“It’s very encouraging to see boys coming in and doing well for us. Ronan was a substitute against Offaly and then did well on Saturday against Sligo. That helps to make life harder for us who have to pick the team.”

Murtagh himself is clearly relishing his new lease of life with Down and has his sights set on a starting place against Kerry.

“They are the biggest challenge for any side and we will now be measuring ourselves against them,” said Murtagh.

“Kerry have had plenty of recovery time since the Munster final, but we feel that our recent run of games has further bonded our side and helped our confidence.

“ The fact that we are in the last eight of the All Ireland offers us the incentive to go even further. We want to make the most of this chance.”

l The Central Competitions Control Committee has confirmed the arrangements for the All Ireland Football quarter-finals.

Saturday July 31: Croke Park: Kerry v Down (2.00), Tyrone v Dublin (4.00).

Sunday August 1: Croke Park; Roscommon v Cork (2.00), Meath v Kildare (4.00).

Belfast Telegraph

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