Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

McKernan stays positive despite McGourty blow

Down manager Jim McKernan is remaining upbeat in relation to his team’s prospects in Division Two of the National Hurling League despite the fact that he will be without one of his best players for the competition - and perhaps for the Ulster Championship.

Brendan McGourty has indicated that he intends to stay in the United States for a protracted spell because of the economic downturn here.

A bricklayer by trade, McGourty has been unable to find employment locally and his absence will be keenly felt by a Down side in the throes of a transitional period just now.

Manager McKernan, gearing up for tomorrow’s National League opener against Laois at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise (2.30pm), is optimistic, though, that the peninsula men can acquire a degree of fluency quickly.

“Obviously we want to get into our rhythm as early as we can,” maintains McKernan.

“We are in a tough division with teams like Antrim, Wexford and Offaly to play, so there will be ho honeymoon period.

“It’s disappointing that we will be without a player of the calibre of Brendan McGourty but this is the type of situation with which all managers have to live at the present time.”

Laois parade a mixture of old and new faces and are invariably resilient opponents.

Meanwhile, Derry host Mayo at Banagher knowing that a victory could spark progress.

Mayo have made headway of late and will provide a stiff test for the Oak Leaf county.

But with Liam Hinphey available for the hosts prior to his departure to the United States, there is the strong chance that they may come out on top.

Manager Brian McGilligan , who has referred to his team in the past as containing “a lot of good wee ‘uns’” is anxious to get an early brace of points under his belt.

The presence of Hinphey and the free-taking of the formidable Ruairi Convery should certainly help in this connection.

Convery, indeed, is buoyed by the challenge facing Derry.

“We have success at Under 21 level lately in Ulster and several of those guys have come through strongly,” says Convery.

“We have boys like Mark Craig in there and they certainly provide great hope for the future.

“We know that if we can beat Mayo tomorrow and then Armagh in our next game we will have got ourselves off to a solid start.”

Armagh, meanwhile, make the trip to Arklow where they will face Wicklow.

The orchard county, who will be without Paul McCormack, hope to give their new manager, former Antrim player Michael Johnson, an early fillip but may find this difficult to achieve against their hosts.

Armagh enhanced their status while Mattie Lennon was in charge but now face into a demanding itinerary.

“I am very pleased with the attitude of the players and their enthusiasm,” said Johnson. “We hope to get off on the right foot but we will wait and see how things go.”

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