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Hughes takes step on road back to the top

By John Campbell

One of Ulster's leading players will take another step towards resurrecting his career in the top flight tonight.

Danny Hughes's absence was keenly felt by Down this year as they flattered to deceive in the Ulster championship before tumbling out of the All-Ireland qualifiers to Derry whom they had earlier beaten in the provincial series.

But right now Hughes, who has spent a decade in the Mourne colours, is rediscovering the form that has made him one of the most versatile performers at both club and county level and he will have a key role when he lines out against Bryansford in the Down championship quarter-final at Pairc Esler, Newry .

It will be a demanding assignment for his club against a side powered by several county players but Hughes remains hopeful that they can reach the last four of what is regarded as one of the most competitive county championships of all.

"Obviously Bryansford have their big guns but we have belief and that should stand to us. The championship is the real testing ground for all sides," insists Hughes.

Down midfield powerhouse Kalum King and talented young forward Danny Savage will be central to Bryansford's strategy but David McKibben may be unavailable.

King's ability to win first-phase possession could pose problems for Saval but the emerging Niall Madine could prove the ace in their pack. Madine made an impressive debut for Down against Derry in the quarter-final of the Ulster Championship back in June and continues to mature in terms of his creative and finishing skills.

He will be a key cog in the Saval attack tonight with his pace likely to discomfit the Bryansford rearguard.

Meanwhile, on Sunday at Ballygalget Portaferry and Ballycran will lock horns in the Down hurling championship semi-final – a match that looks certain to come under the microscope of county boss Gerard Monan.

Monan has unearthed a seam of fresh talent over the course of the past two years but continues to mine for more nuggests as he seeks to further improve his squad.

Portaferry will of course look to the free-scoring Paul Braniff for inspiration while Matthew Conlon and Kevin McGarry are other key players in their side.

Ballycran, meanwhile, will look to Paudie Flynn, Patrick Hughes, Conor Woods and Michael Ennis along with goalkeeper Stephen Keith to bolster their defence.

And in the elusive James Coyle they have a particularly incisive scoring forward who could ostensibly tip the scales in his side's favour on this occasion.

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