The main thrust of the January sales may be over but Down manager James McCartan still has his shopping list to hand.
And his prime commodity is solid, muscular defenders to bulk up his side as the season begins to unravel.
The Mourne County may be through to the semi-finals of the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup following rather unconvincing wins over Cavan and Armagh but McCartan is acutely aware that his defence requires strengthening.
That feeling was reinforced when Armagh clawed their way back into Wednesday night’s game at Pairc Esler when, after trailing by seven points at one stage, they reduced the deficit to just two points only to surrender the initiative again when Paul McComiskey scored Down’s second goal.
“Armagh had some physically impressive forwards who were able to take their chances and that helped to give their side a foothold in the game,” stated McCartan.
“While we ourselves have talented, nimble forwards we need more bulk and physique at the back if we are to mount a real challenge for honours,” he said.
It is generally acknowledged that physicality, based on streamlined conditioning, is now very much a pre-requisite for success in gaelic football.
While Down’s passing, support play and covering are obvious attributes, the lack of bulk in their defence was exposed by the Cavan and Armagh attacks, with Stefan Forker underlining this flaw by helping himself to four points from play and contributing a brace from frees.
“We now have a semi-final against Monaghan who have won three matches on the bounce and will face us in confident mood so we have to be ready for this challenge,” said McCartan.
“This is another game for us in advance of the Allianz League and we have to try and offer much more defensive resilience.”
Kevin McKernan, normally a centre-half-back, played at midfield against Armagh while Daniel McCartan and Conor Garvey missed the game.
Aidan Carr wore the No 6 shirt against the Orchard County even though he generally performs in the half-forward line.
Gerard McAnulty and David McKibben have impressed since coming into the side earlier this month but both are still inexperienced while McComiskey’s renaissance in the attack has been a particularly pleasing feature of the McKenna Cup to date for |McCartan.
“I was happy with our first-half performance against Armagh but we lost our way a bit in the third quarter.
“We will need to sustain our effort against Monaghan on Sunday if we are to reach the McKenna Cup final,” said McCartan.