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Rookies ready for Cup baptism

Twenty years ago James McCartan and Paddy O’Rourke shared in Down’s fourth All-Ireland football title triumph, the latter proving an inspirational skipper in a memorable 1-16 to 1-14 win over Meath.

Today, on the cusp of a new campaign, the Mourne duo share a rather more dubious distinction.

As they each begin their third season in inter-county management, McCartan with Down and O’Rourke in Armagh, their drive for championship success, so elusive to date, will be stepped up.

Before the main course of the fixtures calendar is served up, the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition will serve as an aperitif and that’s why both bosses are anxious to titillate the taste buds of their followers this month starting with their head-to-head at Pairc Esler, Newry on Sunday.

Their teams, though, will be shorn of familiar faces. And the sharpness, intensity and passion associated with championship football will not be prevalent with the full glare of the national media spotlight on hold for another day.

Yet this is an extremely important competition for both managers.

The creation of a vibrant, new-look side is a priority for McCartan and O’Rourke to such an extent that what happens in January could effectively fashion their journey through 2012.

Only this week McCartan made amendments to his squad, the call-up of the vastly experienced Liam Doyle perhaps the most interesting addition while O’Rourke admits that he may blood upwards on a dozen rookies over the course of his team’s three scheduled games between now and January 18.

O’Rourke is pragmatic in his approach even though he must be privately frustrated to be without Paul Hearty, James Morgan, Aaron Kernan, Kieran Toner, David McKenna, Tony Kernan, Steven McDonnell, Ronan Clarke, Jamie Clarke, Gavin McParland and Rory Grugan — a list that is a virtual who’s who of Orchard County football.

“Obviously we are missing a lot of our experienced players, but this will open the door for others,” says construction company director O’Rourke.

“We still have lots of good young footballers in Armagh and they will get the chance to show what they can do.”

McCartan, meanwhile, having absorbed the blow occasioned by the departure of Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney to Australian Rules Football as well as the loss of James Colgan, John Clarke and Peter Fitzpatrick, will place his faith in a number of players who were impressive at club level last year.

“These players deserve the chance to show what they can do. Every manager will be striving to get a settled side for the National League and I am no exception,” says McCartan.

Ryan Brady, Kevin Anderson, Michael McAllister and Keith Quinn are the latest call-ups to McCartan’s squad in which experience is provided by Brendan McVeigh, Danny Hughes, Benny Coulter, Kalum King, Daniel McCartan and Dan Gordon.

Sunday’s tie will certainly provide a small pointer as to just how deep the pool of talent is in both counties.

Belfast Telegraph