GAA Football

Burren assistant boss Stevie McDonnell wary of Castlewellan wounded animal ahead of championship clash

Sunday's Down quarter-final against Castlewellan will come too soon for star forward Donal O'Hare, although he could be available for the later stages of the championship should Burren progress. Picture by Pat O'Hare
Neil Loughran

Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship

IT’S almost a year since Burren sent Castlewellan crashing out of the Down championship, and Stevie McDonnell believes that hurt will be driving 'The Town' on when the sides renew acquaintances in Newry on Sunday night.

After a nip and tuck first half in last year’s semi-final, the St Mary’s – who are managed by 1991 All-Ireland winner Paddy O’Rourke - pulled away, winning by eight points as they advanced to a decider with defending champions Kilcoo.

Castlewellan have already drawn with the Magpies in this year’s championship, eventually losing out after extra-time, and have recorded victories over Longstone and Bryansford.

Burren hold the upper hand from earlier league meetings between the clubs this year, but assistant boss McDonnell believes those games will count for nothing once they cross the white line at Pairc Esler for Sunday’s quarter-final clash.

And he believes the memory of that game 12 months ago will be uppermost in the minds of Mark Doran’s men.

“Castlewellan have proved they’re up to the challenge of championship, they’ve already drawn with Kilcoo so we won’t be taking them lightly. They’re a formidable side, they’re a championship side,” said the former Armagh star, an All-Ireland winner in 2002.

“They will be hurting from the defeat we inflicted on them last year so they’ll want to repay that and probably much more so. We’ll have to be on our guard.

“They probably weren’t at their best in that match, where they had beaten us in the league a couple of times.”

Sunday’s game will come too soon for Down forward Donal O’Hare, who has only recently returned to training. He could be in contention for a semi-final spot should Burren progress.

With club captain Gerard McGovern currently in Australia, Burren are without a couple of big-hitters, but they also have the experience of men like Conaill McGovern and Kevin McKernan to call upon, while talented youngsters like Liam Kerr continue to signal their talent.

“There’s no denying the potential Liam has,” said McDonnell.

“He’s been highly spoken about for the last or four years, he’s a great talent but he’s a young lad too and sometimes if you can put too much expectation on a young lad’s shoulders.

“We’re allowing him to go out and express himself and enjoy his football. We have a great mix of experience and youth. Gerard is a big loss but then you have Conaill McGovern, Ciaran McGovern, Kevin McKernan, boys who have been around and have championship medals – they are the driving figures in the squad.

“They have shown great leadership so far this year.”

Catching Kilcoo, though, remains the objective for all senior clubs in Down.

The Magpies are going for a seventh county title in-a-row, having beaten Burren in three of those finals, and McDonnell admits Paul McIver’s men have set the bar for the chasing pack to reach.

He added: “The reality is Kilcoo have been at the forefront of the Down championship and they deserve to be where they are. Burren have to aspire to get at least back to that level.

“There is always an air of expectation around a club like Burren to win honours and you wouldn’t expect anything else with the history they’ve got.

“Sometimes that type of expectation puts a wee bit of pressure on players where they don’t perform at their maximum levels. Sometimes it drives players on, and that’s what we want.

“Whether it’s good enough to beat Castlewellan this weekend remains to be seen, but there’s plenty of talent and potential among this. If they fulfil their potential, I feel there’s a championship in them, absolutely.”

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