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Down's Brendan McArdle out to right wrong

full back happy for down to be below radar as they aim to go all the way in championship

By Declan Boyle

it may be December and most people are glad of the break, but don't count Down full-back Brendan McArdle among them.

He is in action tonight in the first game of the revived O'Fiaich Cup, against old rivals Armagh in the Athletic Grounds, and couldn't be more delighted.

"My club finished almost three months ago," explained the Annaclone man, "so I am ready and delighted to get going at this stage. Obviously there are some lads who could do with a rest but the majority of boys are itching to get at it again."

As for togging out in the December competition, he felt it was the ideal way to lead into the McKenna Cup, saying: "It's novel. It's good for everybody and those who are brought into the panel it's another chance to impress ahead of the McKenna Cup.

"I think the McKenna Cup is no longer a try-out competition anymore, you want to push on and do well in it because it breeds success.

"You only have to look at when Tyrone were going well and how they did in it. They were winning McKenna Cups at the time. All teams put more emphasis on it now at this stage."

Like most counties, Down are in the process of naming their 26-man panel for the Dr McKenna Cup to the Ulster Council. The reality of the situation is that most if not all counties are currently carrying close to 40 players that will be trimmed significantly ahead of the National League.

In some ways, this next couple of months will determine the future of many county hopefuls, as McArdle explains.

"Everybody wants to impress and it's this time of year; if you don't play well now, then you won't be playing in February in the National League. So this competition and the McKenna Cup are very important."

By the time Down get to the league, McArdle is expecting Danny Hughes to be part of the panel.

The 2010 All-Star is currently mulling over his future, but McArdle is confident Hughes will return to put his shoulder to the wheel.

"I think he was told to take a couple of weeks break and think about it and he could be back and at it. Danny's thing is he probably expects too high a standard of himself; that he should be the fittest man, the strongest man, winning all the sprints and all that.

"He's just coming back from injury and he felt he was maybe a bit short of where he should have been and that's probably made him think twice.

"But anybody will tell you in Down, within the squad, Danny is a leader and a man we need behind us next season."

Another leader in the panel expected to be back is Benny Coulter and there is a sense that, in division two, Down can rebuild and develop their play away from the constant pressure and microscopic attention that teams in the top flight are the subject of.

"The last time we were in division two was 2010 and we had a great run in the league even though we lost the league final," recounts McArdle.

"But we were winning games heading into the Championship, maybe won six out of the seven games in the league.

"I think division two is quite tough this year, there are a lot of local games, the likes of Armagh again. But it is good to maybe not be so in the radar as much and that could be a help."

After Down had produced the blueprint on how to beat Donegal with their defiant but ultimately unsuccessful performance in the Ulster semi-final at Breffni Park, McArdle admits to an energy slump mid-way through their campaign, which ultimately ended in defeat to Derry.

"We had already been up there, it took a lot out of us," he reflected.

"Going up to Derry and to Celtic Park is not easy. There was a bit of 'we have been here before', but again, we let ourselves down. We can't make excuses at this stage and hopefully we can right that wrong this summer."

With James McCartan back for his fifth season at the helm, Down's target ini 2014 is the same as every year – to land silverware.

McArdle states: "I make no doubts about it, it was our aim to win an Ulster Championship last year. In going out of the Championship there is that wee lull and it does take a lot to lift a team going into the backdoor and when the draw was made there was a sense of going right back to where we started. It felt like a step back.

"We didn't win it and that was it, but hopefully we can right that, this season."

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