No player is more grateful than Ronan Murtagh that Down have been able to combat the arctic weather conditions and continue their outdoor training.
James McCartan’s squad completed a full session at Ballymartin on Thursday night when Murtagh, one of the county’s most experienced forwards, continued his rehabilitation from a knee problem.
Last year Murtagh, a bricklaying sub-contractor, missed out on the Dr McKenna Cup for business reasons and now he is hopeful that injury will not once again impact on his participation in this year’s competition which is due to swing into action next weekend.
“When the snow came, I thought that we might be restricted to the gymnasium but we have had a couple of terrific outdoor sessions down by the sea at Ballymartin and this has helped to keep us all on our toes.
“From my own perspective, I have been encouraged by the way my knee has been responding and I would hope maybe to get a little game time in the latter stages of the McKenna Cup if the manager sees fit as a prelude to making the cut for the National League,” says Murtagh.
The Ballyholland clubman played against Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship last year and although a wrist injury threatened at one stage to terminate his involvement in the All Ireland Qualifiers, he was nonetheless introduced as a substitute against Wicklow but could not prevent Down from suffering a shock defeat against Mick O’Dwyer’s fired-up side.
Now 28-year-old Murtagh is determined that Down can put their recent dismal Championship form behind them and make a better impression this year.
“We will be taking part in Division Two of the National League and this should afford us better preparation for the Championship as we will be playing against quality sides like Donegal, Armagh, Kildare and Fermanagh.
“We have been drawn against Donegal in the Ulster Championship and this is a very big challenge for us particularly given the way that John Joe Doherty’s side performed in the Qualifiers last year before they lost to Cork,” points out Murtagh.
His sharpshooting skills, clever distribution and selflessness have made Murtagh an integral part of the Down attack for several years but he acknowledges that competition for places will be particularly keen this year.
“The Barrett Sports Lighting McKenna Cup will obviously give the manager a chance to look at new players and they will naturally be keen to impress.
“Several of the older hands like me are still in there and it’s up to us to show that we can continue to do a job for the county.
“The fans have been getting a bit frustrated but there is now optimism that we can maybe do something this year.
“I would love to see some success achieved not for myself but for our followers who have been extremely loyal when we have not maybe been hitting the high spots,” says Murtagh.