GAA Football

Caolan Mooney to sit out Dr McKenna Cup as Down boss Eamonn Burns runs rule over Mourne youngsters

Caolan Mooney in action for Down against Armagh in last season's Ulster SFC quarter-final in Newry
Andy Watters

CAOLAN Mooney will sit out the Dr McKenna Cup to allow Down manager Eamonn Burns to run the rule over some emerging youngsters.

Mooney, one of the success stories for the Mournemen in 2017, intends to allow his body to rest and recover after a season that ran from the Dr McKenna Cup in January to the Ulster Intermediate Championship final with his club St Bronagh’s, Rostrevor on November 25.

“I’m looking forward to taking a couple of weeks off – I need it,” said Mooney.

“You can’t be expected to play two years back-to-back without a bit of a break.

“I’ll take two weeks to myself just to relax and then I’ll see where my fitness is at and if I’m ready to play in the McKenna Cup. But I think there’ll be a lot of new faces being blooded in and the McKenna Cup could be their time to stake a claim for a jersey.”

Mooney should be back in the Down fold for their NFL Division Two opener against Pete McGrath’s Louth on January 28. The Mournemen were under relegation pressure through the 2017 campaign but survived thanks to a gutsy draw in Cork in the final round of games and Mooney is hoping for a promotion challenge this term.

“There’s definitely improvements to be made from last year, but we’re confident of getting a decent run in the League,” he said.

“We’ll be expecting more of ourselves and more of Down. There was a standard set last year and anything below it will be a disappointing year, we want to be replicating that and trying to push on.

“We want to build into the League, try and get promotion and build towards the Championship but you can’t look too far ahead because the League is a tough ask – the game against Louth will be a revenge mission for Pete (McGrath) because he did us last year with Fermanagh.

“We can’t take look past that game down in Drogheda.”

That game in Drogheda will see Eamonn Burns up against his former mentor Pete McGrath. McGrath, also from Rostrevor, guided Burns to All-Ireland wins in 1991 and 1994 and beat his native county with Fermanagh last year before moving on to the ‘Wee County’.

Down will come up against another former manager – Jim McCorry – next year. McCorry took the team for the 2015 season before resigning after losing to Wexford in the Qualifiers.

“Things didn’t go too well for Jim towards the end,” said Mooney.

“We were on top of Roscommon in the League (Division Two) final and we had Benny McArdle wrongfully sent off. Then they got on top and won.

“Against Derry (Ulster Championship), Conall McGovern touched one of their men in the chest and he went down like a sack of spuds. When you go down a man at inter-county level it’s a tough ask.

“But for the Wexford game we underestimated our opposition. We thought we just had to turn up, but it was a lesson Down had to learn the hard way – if you don’t perform, you don’t win.”

Expectations were at an all time low midway through the 2017 League campaign but after Division Two survival was achieved, surprise packets Down beat Armagh and Monaghan to reach the Ulster final.

“Maybe teams took us for granted,” said Mooney.

“But I think with Armagh we were evenly matched and I don’t think anybody could really pick a winner although Armagh were slight favourites.

“The next game against Monaghan we were heavy underdogs but we knew within ourselves that we could definitely give them a run and we got the win in the end. Then they got their homework done for the Qualifier and we couldn’t live with their second half performance. We have to go back to the drawingboard and see how we rectify that.”

The retirements of Mark Poland and Aidan Carr mean that Mooney , who made his debut for Down at senior level in 2011 before moving to Australia to play Aussie Rules with Collingwood, is now one of the more experienced operators in the panel.

“I’m sad to see Mark going,” he said.

“He definitely could have played another couple of years and it’s going to be a big hit for the experience in the changingroom.

“He was a good man to have around half-time and if things weren’t going your way he was there to give you words of advice. He got on the ball and once he was it was hard to get him off it – he’s a wee man with a big heart.

“I’ll definitely miss having around because he was good craic, he was good at giving out stick but then, when it came to being serious, he was able to put the serious head on. He’ll be a big loss and there’s a lot of boys could have learned a lot off him because we have a young squad coming through. “If you look at it there’s Peter Turley, Kevin McKernan, Benny McArdle (if he comes back in which I’m nearly 100 per cent sure he is).

“They are all around 30 and then there’s a bit of a gap to the likes of myself, Ryan Johnston and Niall McParland.”

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