The rash of high-profile players destined to miss the initial phase of the Ulster Senior Football Championship has served to cast a shadow over the competition.
Virtually every side will be without at least one stellar player and in the case of Down they will be handicapped by the absence of both Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon for their quarter-final against Fermanagh on Sunday week.
While the loss of such a substantial ration of experience has caused apprehension and even fear within the county, long-serving forward Danny Hughes, himself involved in a fitness fight for the Brewster Park showdown, believes that new faces can now step up to the mark.
Hughes has been a regular in the Down side for over a decade and speaking at yesterday’s Ulster bank Championship forum in Dublin he urged everyone in the Mourne County to adopt a positive approach to the Championship.
“It’s a big setback to be going in against Fermanagh without Benny and Dan, two of our most capable players, but that’s the way it is,” said Hughes. “We must face up to the challenge that Fermanagh will pose and make the very best of the resources we have.”
Down overcame Armagh in a challenge game last Sunday and it was a match that further convinced Hughes that there is a raft of talent within the county that could get the opportunity to flourish on the Championship stage.
“There are players like Darren O’Hagan, Donal O’Hare and others who I think have the ability and the attitude to make it at inter-county level,” said Hughes.
“Then there are boys like Marcus Miskelly, Arthur McConville who got their chance in the league and made the most of it.”
While Hughes is quick to talk up Down’s resources, he is nonetheless wary of the test they will face in Enniskillen.
“To my mind, Fermanagh have become reinvigorated under Peter Canavan. They are a dangerous animal, ready to pounce on us,” stated Hughes.
“They showed consistent form in the league and even though they will be without their skipper Ryan McCluskey they have several experienced players back from injury who will be chomping at the bit for action.”
Hughes remains hopeful of getting game time against Fermanagh but will continue to be patient in his recovery bid.
“ The medical people appear quite happy with me and I don’t want to do anything to offset the progress I have made,” he said.
“There are still 10 days to go to the game and hopefully I will have honed my fitness further by then.”
Like Gordon, Coulter and one or two others Hughes has soldiered at the coal face for longer than he might care to remember without having anything to show for his efforts.
“An Ulster medal would be very welcome,” he smiles.