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Down's Conor Garvey back for a shot at glory

By John Campbell

Conor Garvey is certainly going the right way about putting a nightmare 2013 behind him.

The Down defender thought his playing career had ended when he incurred a serious work-related eye injury which necessitated major surgery and a protracted recovery period, with the Mayobridge clubman initially hoping that he had not lost his sight.

He missed the entire Ulster Championship having earlier been restricted to just one appearance as a substitute during the league because of a troublesome ankle injury.

And this compounded his grief from 2012 when he was forced to miss the Ulster final against Donegal because of a suspension imposed after he had been deemed guilty of a stamping offence in the semi-final win over Monaghan.

Now, though, all has changed. Garvey's fusion of resilience, self-belief and expert care means that not only has he resumed inter-county duty, but he is in line for possible honours.

On Saturday James McCartan's side face Meath in a must-win game in their bid to ensure promotion to the top bracket.

They are currently on seven points after five games along with Donegal and Monaghan and simply cannot afford to concede further ground as not only does a promotion spot beckon, but the distinct possibility of reaching the Division Two final is an additional carrot for the side.

With Donegal expected to beat struggling Louth and Monaghan likely to account for Laois on Sunday, Down need to garner a maximum dividend from their trip to Pairc Tailteann, Navan.

It's a match to which Down, reinvigorated by their surprise 1-9 to 0-10 win over Donegal in the last round of fixtures following their unexpected lapse against Galway, are looking forward immensely.

"We know what we have to do," states the rejuvenated Garvey.

"We can't afford to lose ground. The promotion race is very tight, but we want to get into Division One if we can."

In the win over Donegal, Garvey (left) scored two superb points and led the resistance when Jim McGuinness' side threatened to take control of the game in the second-half only for wayward shooting to prove their downfall.

With Kalum King, Conor Laverty, Ryan Johnston and Benny Coulter all pushing for starting places manager McCartan is confronted by an interesting selection tapestry.

When Peter Fitzpatrick failed to start against Donegal, Kevin McKernan teamed up with Peter Turley in midfield and their work-rate, physique and distribution proved key components of the team's strategy as did the defensive prowess of Garvey, Brendan McArdle and Ryan Boyle.

"It's tremendous to see Conor Garvey back in there and showing his best form," says Down PRO Paul Rooney.

"He has given great service to the county since he first came into the side. He is a real battler, a player who never knows when he is beaten.

"Conor, indeed, has proven an inspiration to all of us by the defiant manner in which he has recovered from such a devastating injury to resume his career at the highest level."

* DAVID O'Hagan, Ciaran McCooey, Michael Murphy and Joe McElroy have been drafted into the Armagh defence for tonight's Ulster under-21 championship replay against Antrim while Eddie English and Jemar Hall get places in the attack.

Manager Steven McDonnell is hoping that his side will not leak scores and particularly goals, to the extent that they did in last week's drawn game while at the same time seeking a much more rigid defensive performance.

Armagh: D O'Hagan; D O'Neill, S Kelly, C McCooey; D O'Hagan, M Murphy, J McElroy; A Findon, E Rafferty; P McGeown, M McKenna, C Cumiskey; E English, C O'Hanlon, J Hall.

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