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All Ireland Qualifiers: Down boss McCartan forced to ring changes for Longford clash

Down manager James McCartan is discovering that his selection options are rather more limited as he prepares for Saturday’s important All Ireland qualifier against Longford at Newry.

When the Mourne County gained promotion in the National League earlier this year McCartan, on his own admission, was rather spoiled for choice as players vigorously contested starting berths in the side.

But although he will have right-full-back Daniel McCartan back from suspension, a series of mishaps now sees the Down boss approach his mission encumbered by apprehension.

The defections of Ronan Murtagh and Stephen Kearney from the squad, a leg knock sustained by defender Damien Rafferty while assisting his club Newry Shamrocks last Friday and the ongoing absence of longer term injury victims Kevin Duffin and Aidan Brannigan all combine to trim the resources that will now be available to the manager.

Murtagh is one of the most experienced players in the Down panel, a forward of proven quality while Kearney has played for the county at wing-forward and midfield and their decision to withdraw from the current championship means that manager McCartan is shorn of a valuable ration of experience.

And the latest injury incurred by Rafferty could yet see McCartan forced to amend his defence for a game against a Longford which will travel to Newry fortified by their shock win over Mayo in the first round of the qualifiers — a defeat that saw Mayo manager John O’Mahoney tender his resignation.

Rafferty was a doubt up until shortly before Down took the field against Donegal in their opening Ulster Championship tie but in the event he proved to be one of their best players in the extra-time triumph at Ballybofey.

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Then in the semi-final defeat by Tyrone he helped to offer solid resistance for the most part after Down conceded the early initiative, allowing the Red Hands to boss the second-half.

McCartan can ill afford to be without the tenacious Rafferty against a Longford attack that includes considerable experience and the player is to be given every opportunity to recover.

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