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Mixed fortunes for Mournemen on fitness front

By John Campbell

The twin curses of injuries and emigration have exacted a heavy toll on Down football since the start of the year.

And county manager James McCartan has been left to ponder their implications as he prepares for the forthcoming Ulster Championship opener against Fermanagh at Brewster Park, Enniskillen on June 3.

If a ray of sunlight filtered through the gloom with the return of Dan Gordon and Declan Rooney to club action, then a more familiar air of despondency returned with confirmation that neither Damien Rafferty nor Keith Quinn will play any part in the provincial series, while Benny Coulter is also a major doubt.

Even extensive medical treatment in the United States has failed to cure Rafferty’s deep-seated groin problems while Quinn, who was beginning to make an impact with the Mourne County, is also heading across the Atlantic — but for a different reason.

The lure of work is taking the Mayobridge player to the US thus restricting McCartan’s selection options for a clash with Fermanagh that, despite the Ernesiders’ fall from grace against Wicklow, is nonetheless a formidable challenge.

The ongoing absence of the experienced Rafferty in particular is still keenly felt, according to McCartan.

“He is one of those players who has consistently put his body on the line for the county long before I became manager and he has served Down well,” McCartan explained.

“He and others who have soldiered at the coalface for a long time deserve the best possible medical treatment but there is never any guarantee of a complete cure.

“He has had more than his share of injury problems over recent years and had hoped to return to the side but that does not look possible. He is a big loss to us,” added McCartan.

The anticipated reappearance of the combative Rooney in the red and black jersey will be warmly welcomed given that he has been out of action since last August while the loss of Gordon in the concluding stages of the Allianz League did nothing to help Down’s cause.

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