Ronan Murtagh ready to play key role for Down again
Down manager James McCartan will tonight unveil his blueprint for the forthcoming All Ireland football Championship semi-final against Kildare when his squad undergo their first training session since the stunning quarter-final victory over Kerry.
And McCartan will now find himself confronted by interesting selection options as he contemplates his line-up to face Kieran McGeeney’s buoyant side.
Ronan Murtagh, hugely impressive in scoring 1-5 as a substitute against Sligo and equally convincing when he got on the scoresheet against the Kingdom again after coming off the bench, has further embellished his credentials for a semi-final starting place by hammering in the decisive goal that took Ballyholland to a shock victory over Rostrevor in the Down Championship.
Murtagh withdrew from the Down squad some weeks ago but made a dramatic return to action and could now have a key role against the Lily Whites.
Trainer Paddy Tally plans to have Down at concert pitch for the Headquarters showdown while coach Brian McIver, who missed the game against Kerry because of a family wedding, will be there tonight to help plot the team’s strategy.
Manager McCartan, conscious that competition for starting places is greater than at any time since the start of the season, insists that his side will need to step up further on their performance against the Kingdom if they are to overcome Kildare.
“Kieran McGeeney’s built up a big head of steam during the qualifiers before they beat Meath in the quarter-finals.
“They probably could have won that game by a bigger margin and we have to be aware of that.
“People are saying that Down have a good record in Croke Park
but we certainly cannot allow that to breed the slightest element of complacency,” insists McCartan.
Meanwhile, Down senior football champions Kilcoo were stretched for two-thirds of their opening round game against Downpatrick yesterday before emerging victors by 2-11 to 1-7.
Downpatrick, with Peter Turley particularly solid at centre-half-back, offered stoic resistance in the first-half but after the break a Paul Devlin goal proved to be the catalyst for Kilcoo’s hard-earned victory.
Also making it through to the next round are Saval, although they had to rely heavily on their county shooting star Daniel Hughes in carving out their 0-13 to 0-11 win over a courageous Ballymartin side yesterday.
Saval were under the cosh for spells but managed to finish strongly, their extra edge in experience proving a telling factor.
Mayobridge coasted to a 4-18 to 0-10 win on Saturday over Warrenpoint with Benny Coulter, Cathal Magee, Ryan Brady and Ronan Sexton grabbing their goals.
Coulter was substituted by his former Down colleague Michael Walsh after 40 minutes by which time Mayobridge were assured of victory.
Mayobridge were a dominant force in Down football for several years up until quite recently but their form over the weekend suggests that a title return could be imminent.
And a late Jason Brown goal helped Clonduff to snatch a draw against An Riocht.
John Clarke scored the An Riocht goal in their 1-8 total but Paul McPoland found the net for Clonduff before Brown’s late strike made it 2-5 for An Riocht and forced the draw.