Middle man top priority in Down
Down manager James McCartan is hoping to formulate a new midfield partnership over the course of the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition.
With Ambrose Rogers still not quite up to speed in terms of inter-county action and Peter Fitzpatrick having emigrated to Australia, McCartan will be seeking a fresh partner for Kalum King in the engine-room.
Down begin their McKenna Cup campaign against neighbours Armagh on Sunday and McCartan is anxious to ensure that a solid midfield alliance is in place for the National League which gets under way early next month.
He must also find replacements for brothers John and Martin Clarke who are no longer available to him. Both played against Armagh in the Ulster championship last year when Martin scored five points in a surprise Down defeat at the Morgan Athletic Grounds.
Daniel Hughes, Mark Poland, Paul McComiskey and of course Brendan Coulter are expected to be Down’s key forwards again this year.
McCartan, embarking on his third year in charge, will give a number of newcomers to his squad their chance to impress this month.
Arthur McConville could well emerge as a viable option in midfield as could Peter Turley while the versatile Marcus Miskelly has already served notice that he is ready to make the step-up to county team action.
All three players have shown splendid form with their clubs in recent months thus prompting McCartan to include him in his preliminary squad for 2012.
“The door is always open, of course. We will see how we go in our group games in the McKenna Cup and if we reach the semi-final or maybe even the final the extra matches won’t do us any harm,” says McCartan.
Meanwhile, Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke is urging the more established players in his side to give a lead to the influx of new players he has brought in.
Indeed, as many as twelve novices could be given a chance to impress in the games against Down, St Mary’s and Monaghan with O’Rourke anxious for his old guard to set the template for the newcomers.
“Obviously with so many new guys having been drafted in com
petition for places will be keen but that’s the way we want it.
“The only method by which younger players will improve is by getting games under their belts although it is not always possible to accommodate everyone,” points out O’Rourke.
“We have a number of established players out at this point in time for different reasons and so the opportunity is always there for others to step up and make their mark.
“These games in the McKenna Cup will give players the chance to find their feet at senior county level and we may then be in a position to have a more settled side for the National League.”
Down’s defeat to Armagh in the Ulster championship last year preceded their journey through the All-Ireland qualifiers in which they beat Clare, Leitrim and Antrim prior to falling to Cork, the side that also beat them in the 2010 All Ireland final.
Armagh meanwhile lost to Derry in the Ulster semi-final and then beat Wicklow in the qualifiers before eventually bowing out to Tyrone.