Down captain Ambrose Rogers finds himself confronted by a double-edged challenge as his county begin preparations for next month’s All-Ireland senior football final against Cork.
Rogers, an absentee because of a cruciate ligament injury when the Mournemen overcame Kildare in Sunday’s semi-final, is not only stepping up his battle to be fit for Down’s biggest game in 16 years but he will seek to displace the imposing Peter Fitzpatrick who helped to lay the groundwork for victory against the Lily Whites through his midfield aerial ability.
A full-time coaching officer with the Down county board, Rogers is undergoing physiotherapy for his injury and it remains to be seen if he will fully recover in time to make the cut against Conor Counihan’s side.
With Kalum King having developed into one of the best midfield players in the country and Danny Hughes now virtually operating as a third player in the engine-room because of his ability to win and recycle break ball, Down are particularly well served in this sector of the field, especially now that Fitzpatrick has underlined his potential.
But manager James McCartan recognises that in Cork his players will be facing the most physically imposing team in the All-Ireland Championship.
“Cork are big, fast and powerful — they play direct football and have very fluent finishers in their attack. Obviously we want to have everyone on board including Ambrose who is our captain and who has been our anchor for the greater part of this year,” points out McCartan.
Down players to a man are hoping that Rogers wins his fitness battle for several reasons.
“He has helped to carry us for much of this year. When Kalum King initially went in alongside him he was raw but Ambrose has helped him develop into a fine player. Ambrose usually sets the tone for how we play and it would be terrible if he were to miss out on an All-Ireland final appearance,” says Benny Coulter.
Rogers was among the Down replacements on Sunday and was among the first to embrace the players as they left the Croke Park pitch following their win over Kildare.
His experience, stamina and finishing power are viewed as essential ingredients for the battle against a Cork side that, while singularly unimpressive in some of their recent years, have still managed to battle their way through to the final.
“It must not be forgotten that Ambrose can kick points from maybe 50 or 60 yards and that can be a big help especially in a place like Croke Park,” adds Coulter.