Down call in new faces for Dr McKenna Cup opener
Dr McKenna Cup Group B: Down v Armagh (Pairc Esler, 8pm)
DOWN manager Eamonn Burns has drafted experienced Kilcoo clubman Aaron Morgan into the Mourne county’s Dr McKenna Cup squad.
The Irish News understands that Morgan – who started at midfield when ‘the Magpies’ completed a five in-a-row of county championship titles in October – will be part of the Down squad for Wednesday night’s Group B opener against Armagh.
It is also understood that Mayobridge native Keith Quinn (who lined out for New York in the Connacht SFC preliminary round clash with Sligo at Gaelic Park last year) could return to the panel this year but Rostrevor’s free-taking goalkeeper Jonny Parr (who has also played in goal for Warrenpoint Town) turned down a call-up.
Other new faces in the squad include Patrick Murdock (St Peter’s Warrenpoint) and Shay Murnin (Clonduff) and, with Ryan Johnston ruled out with a foot injury and Mark Poland and Aidan Carr retired, they will hope to see some action in the clash at Newry’s Pairc Esler which is a repeat of last summer’s Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final.
The Mournemen won by a couple of points en route to a surprise Ulster final appearance that day but Armagh recovered well and actually went further than their neighbours.
Qualifier wins against Fermanagh, Westmeath (in Mullingar),
Tipperary (in Thurles) and Kildare at Croke Park set the scene for an all-Ulster rumble with Tyrone at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage that rekindled memories of the heavyweight clashes between the counties throughout the ‘noughties’.
However it proved to a bridge too far for Armagh who were outclassed by the Red Hands and well beaten.
Progress had been made but that defeat was a sour note to end the season on and since it manager Kieran McGeeney has had to patch up the holes in his squad left by the retirement of Ciaran McKeever and by the unavailability of Jamie Clarke, Ciaron O’Hanlon, James Morgan, Shea Heffron, Oisin O’Neill and Stefan Campbell.
McGeeney – also without recently married Brendan Donaghy who is expected to return – has scoured the county for fresh faces and has included several rookies in his panel for the competition.
With expectations high for the Division Three campaign that follows, he will hope to unearth some new talent throughout this campaign
As well as the new faces in his squad, Down manager Burns – who has Cathal Murray and Gearoid Adams in his backroom team – will also have Saval clubman Niall Madine available in 2018. Madine was first called into the Mourne panel by James McCartan, but was unavailable in 2017.
“I'm just glad to be back," Madine said.
“I was glad to get the break away from the county and just focus on the club, but it's good to be back. I'm taking every day as it comes, I'm not putting any pressure on myself.
“You've the likes of (Connaire) Harrison there who did really well last year and it's up to me now to show that I'm as good as them boys.
“It's up to me to show I can perform at the level they're performing. Hopefully it is competitive because that's what you want - people competing for places.”
Armagh panel: A Findon, A McKay, A Forker, A Murnin, A Duffy, B Crealey, B Hughes, C Vernon, C Higgins, C White, D McKenna, E Rafferty, G McCabe, J McElroy, M Shields, N Grimley, N Rowland, O Lappin, O Mac Íomhair, P Burns, P Morrison, P Hughes, R Grugan, R Kennedy, R Owens, S Sheridan
Down panel: TBC