Paul McIver prepares new-look Kilcoo for opener with Saval
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship first round: Kilcoo v Saval (Thursday, Clonduff, 8.15pm)
PAUL McIVER begins his second Down Senior Club Championship as Kilcoo boss but, with 13 players missing from last season’s Frank O’Hare Cup-winning squad, he promises a fresh approach in Thursday's opener against Saval.
While the Derry native guided the Magpies to their fourth county championship title win in-a-row last season, much of the blueprint was based on the work done by his predecessor Jim McCorry. But against Saval, McIver will play at least four championship debutants, who are expected to adopt a much more open and free-flowing game-plan, with the Magpies boss putting his own stamp on the team.
“People will see a fresh new Kilcoo because of the personnel change,” said McIver.
“They will be looking at the team-sheet wondering who they are.”
The defending champions will be without the injured Johnston brothers, Jerome and Ryan, while Aidan Fulcher and Gary McEvoy are also ruled out through injury. JJ McLoughlin and Dylan Ward are on holidays, the midfield powerhouse of Paul Greenan is traveling around Australia, while the trio of goalkeeper Stephen Kane, Niall Branagan and Niall McEvoy are away on honeymoon. And of course, the tough-tackling Anthony Devlin has retired.
The Kilcoo manager does not expect any of those players to feature over the next three weeks and has encouraged those who win a position on the team in Clonduff to hold onto it: “The boys have worked really hard all year and they will get their reward on Thursday night by putting on that Kilcoo jersey that they take so much pride in,” said McIver.
Saval have been severely hit, with a number of players going to America, including former towering Down player Niall Madine. A small club like Saval can ill-afford to lose such a player, given they are still trying adapt to life without 2010 Allstar Danny Hughes, his brother Johnny and Stephen Kearney, who have all hung up their boots in recent seasons.
Saval will need goalkeeper Peter Murphy, also a shot-stopper with Newry City soccer club, to be on top form and players such as James Kelly, James McCarthy, Stephen Digney and Curtis Sands to have the game of their lives if they are to have any chance of pulling off an upset.