Anto McArdle could have been forgiven for thinking that his sporting world had collapsed when he was handed a six-month ban a matter of weeks ago.
A bizarre series of circumstances led to the Burren and Down player being suddenly ostracised, his future at county level in particular shrouded in doubt.
McArdle was sent off while playing for Burren in the Ulster club final against Crossmaglen Rangers and received the mandatory four weeks suspension.
But shortly afterwards he was sent on as a substitute for his club in an Under 21 match in Down and although he was only on the pitch for a few minutes his involvement in the game brought him to the attention of the disciplinary authorities.
That four-week suspension suddenly morphed into a six-month sanction that all but threatened to bring McArdle’s 2012 season to a premature end.
But when Burren officials pleaded that it had been thought the player’s initial ban only applied to senior competitions and not to Under 21 level, leniency was shown and the ban was lifted.
McArdle last weekend emerged as man of the match when Burren whipped Mayobridge 5-11 to 1-8 in an important All County league game, a stunning scoreline given the reputation Mayobridge enjoy as one of Ulster’s premier clubs.
But just when it seemed that McArdle’s fortunes had changed he suffered another major setback on Wednesday night when he sustained a groin muscle injury against Clonduff.
McArdle, on as a sub, was only on the pitch a short time when he was hurt and it is understood that he could now be out of action for some six weeks, putting his Ulster Championship place against Fermanagh on June 3 in doubt.
“This is a big setback for Anto. He had been reproducing his best form with Burren and would surely have been another selection option against Fermanagh. The hope is he will make a speedy recovery and be available of the rest of our involvement in the championship,” said a Down spokesman.
Given that the Mourne County are likely to be without Dan Gordon and possibly Danny Hughes against Fermanagh, McArdle’s renaissance had been warmly welcomed but now his latest helping of misfortune will further delay his return to the county squad.
Down’s defeat against Cork in the league semi-final, and particularly the manner in which they conceded the two goals that broke their spirit, have caused manager James McCartan to take a long, hard look at his resources for the championship.
“Human error cost us the game against Cork but we have to learn from that,” points out McCartan.
“We have had Declan Rooney and Damien Rafferty out for some time and now with Danny Hughes and Dan Gordon along with Anto on the injured list this means that we have a considerable raft of experience on the sidelines.”
On the plus side, Conor Maginn, Niall Brannigan, Aidan Brannigan, Donal O’Hare and Keith Quinn, all used as subs against Cork, are eyeing starting places against Fermanagh.
Training has been stepped up and in-house matches will be particularly intense in advance of the Brewster Park showdown.