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Down boss McCartan starts looking to his young guns

By John Campbell

Down manager James McCartan plans to give some of this season’s fringe players the opportunity to show their paces when the Dr McKenna Cup competition swings into action next month.

Apart from the long-term injury that deprived him of the services of his skipper Ambrose Rogers for the greater part of the championship campaign — Benny Coulter deputised as skipper — McCartan was confronted with relatively few selection headaches this year.

This meant that he was able to field a fairly settled team for the most part with two players in particular — Conor Maginn and Ronan Murtagh — regularly coming off the bench to help close out games by grabbing important scores. The latter made a singularly impressive impact in the All-Ireland qualifier win over Sligo by scoring 1-5 in a stunning 25-minute spell.

Now McCartan will take overall stock of his selection options during the McKenna Cup competition prior to the start of the National League in February.

Down will be competing in Division One and since they will be meeting sides like Dublin, Kerry, Galway and their All-Ireland final conquerors Cork, McCartan is anxious to quickly ascertain his strength his depth.

Players like Brendan McArdle, Mark Doran, Aidan Brannigan, Ronan Sexton and Conor Laverty are in the frame for action but others will be turning out for their universities.

Meanwhile, both the reigning Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup champions face a difficult task to retain their titles after the draws for the blue riband third level colleges competitions were made in UCD yesterday. Sigerson champions DCU face St Mary's, Belfast for the right to reach the weekend where they would face the winners of UCC and GMIT.

The competition will revert to the traditional three day event across the weekend of March 3/4/5 to celebrate the centenary of the tournament with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final to be played in UCD. However, GAA top brass have made Croke Park available to host the decider should it be requested.

The hosts, who include Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons and Cian |O'Sullivan as well as Laois’ John O'Loughlin and Westmeath starlet John Heslin face the winners of NUI, Galway and IT Sligo.

Current Fitzgibbon champions NUI, Galway have been paired with Cork IT and DIT in Group B but it's Group A that caught the eye as it includes Waterford IT, UCD and Limerick IT. The semi-finals and finals are fixed for Waterford for the weekend of February 25/26.

Sigerson Cup: Round 1: February 17:

Neutral Venue: UUJ v Cork IT; Grangegorman: DIT v UL; Mardyke: UCC v GMIT; Carlow: Carlow IT v Athlone IT; Sligo: IT Sligo v NUI Galway; DCU: DCU v St Marys, Belfast; Maynooth: NUI Maynooth v QUB

Hosts UCD given a bye to quarter-finals

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