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Down manager Burns taking selection one step at a time

By John Campbell

Down manager Eamonn Burns is stepping up the drive to acquire a settled side before his team embark on what promises to be a hugely challenging campaign in Division One of the Allianz League that embraces attractive home matches against Kerry, Dublin and Donegal.

Burns, settling comfortably into his new role and heartened by the spirit of optimism that is becoming more palpable within the county, has set out his short-term goal of reaching the semi-finals of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup - but not necessarily because he is consumed by the lure of silverware.

Instead, the 1991 and 1994 All-Ireland winner sees the opportunity of playing at least one additional game in the competition as important in the context of shaping his line-up.

Burns made his touchline debut in the week-end defeat to Donegal at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey and now views next Sunday's game against Fermanagh at Pairc Esler, Newry as an important stepping stone towards progress.

"We still have a realistic chance of getting another match in the McKenna Cup but to do that we will have to beat Fermanagh and St Mary's and that's a tall order," says Burns.

"In terms of the league we face a very demanding itinerary in Division One but it is great to have home matches against Dublin, Kerry and Donegal. Teams like this will certainly test us and I hope that our supporters will get behind us. Obviously the intention is to arrive at a settled team as quickly as possible but we can only take one step at a time."

"We were back on the training ground on Tuesday night and while we may have lost to Donegal, we are taking the positives from that match. We had the chance to assess some new players in Ballybofey and I would like to think that our options might be broadened."

Burns was in the Down squad when the Ulster Championship title was last captured in 1994 and while he, naturally, has ambitions for the side that he inherited from his predecessor Jim McCorry, he is prepared to exercise patience in his team-building exercise.

"We still have some players involved with their universities while Benny McArdle and Luke Howard have long-term injuries. Obviously you would like to see keen competition for places and the fact that there is a good spirit within the panel is encouraging," adds Burns.

Burns took stock of the Fermanagh v St Mary's match on Wednesday night as he continues to plot the way ahead for a Down team that showed promise against Donegal after conceding an early goal - a score which was to ultimately prove crucial in their 1-11 to 0-11 defeat.

"Giving away that goal was the difference between the sides at the end of the day but we will learn from the game, I feel," adds Burns.

"If we can take things forward against Fermanagh that will be encouraging although they won't be easy opponents given the season they enjoyed in 2015."

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