Down's Brendan McArdle fairly positive about new rules - and the season ahead
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section A: Down v Donegal (Pairc Esler, 1.30pm tomorrow)
BENNY McArdle may have deployed a double negative when considering the season ahead but he’s fairly positive – even about the experimental rules.
Looking forward to Down’s chances of promotion back up from Division Three, the defender declared: “If we bring our 'A' game, I can't see us not being there or thereabouts.”
The Annaclone clubman is similarly ambivalent about the new rules being tried out during the McKenna Cup, but he’s far more favourable to them than most players and managers.
Talking about Down’s opening defeat away to Cavan, McArdle commented: “I don't think the rules really affected that game as such. There were a few turnovers but I don't think there was much seen of that [attacking] mark really…
“I think at this stage we just have to get on with it. I don't know if it had a negative impact on that game and at training we haven't seen it yet. It is maybe about players adapting, getting the head up and using the kick-pass. Maybe people should see them in a more positive light.
“There has been a lot of negativity, but maybe players and management should get on with it too, at this stage.”
Having said that, McArdle isn’t sure whether or not he wants the rules kept on for the League – especially that ‘no more than three hand-passes’ one:
“I think it is a bit early to say but it can be frustrating if you are on your fourth pass. That is obviously the big one that is driving players crazy, keeping tabs on the passes.
“In a game, the players' count is maybe wrong, we are trying to count for the other players and we are getting it wrong sometimes! The referees, how they are supposed to keep up with it?
“But at the end of the day we might need to get on with it and see how it works out. It could work out well. I know in our half-back line, the boys were looking up earlier, if you want to release the ball…”
His ‘glass half-full’ attitude spilled over into his analysis of Down’s first competitive game of this season; despite the one-point defeat in Cavan last Sunday he hailed that as “a very positive start”, explaining: “We fielded a very inexperienced team, a lot of men aren't available or have opted out. So it drove the thing on and it is a very, very positive start.
“I have come [to Breffni Park] for 10 years and we have never got an easy game. To put in a performance like we did with inexperienced men, we are happy.
“Again, it would still be nice to go and get a win, the challenge for us is to go and get a win in Pairc Esler against Donegal.”
The reigning Ulster champions are the visitors to Newry tomorrow and Declan Bonner’s side have already started this competition strongly, beating Queen’s by 0-21 to 0-11 last weekend.
McArdle expects Down to be better than they were against Cavan, having only got back into training before their trip to Kingspan Breffni:
“There was a Christmas break so we hadn't been at anything for the last two weeks but, yeah, training has been good, very fresh. It maybe has lightened the load a bit, maybe not to overdo it with boys at this time of the year.
“But you have to work on your own fitness. The gym sessions are local so it has been very fresh, very positive. A change is always good so hopefully we can kick on from there.
“This year I have seen an increase in intensity in training. That is there already. Again, we have such a young squad. Hopefully we will get everybody on board and we will be there or thereabouts.”
At the time of writing neither team had been announced but both are likely to continue running the rule over new faces.
Donegal have blooded so many players over the previous couple of seasons that there aren’t too many newcomers – Paddy Dolan may get a run-out while Ciaran Diver could start after coming off the bench against the students, and Lorcan Connor will be aiming for more time in attack.
Among those returning to the senior scene for Donegal were the versatile Eoin McHugh and midfielder Jason McGee, while the likes of Brendan McCole, Conor Morrison, Peadar Mogan, Niall O’Donnell, Tony McClenaghan, and Caolan McGonigle will be seeking to impress ahead of the National Football League.
Down;s new boss Paddy Tally tried out quite a few against Cavan, including goalkeeper Rory Burns (another free-taking ’keeper), defenders Kevin McClorey, Ruairi Wells, and Ryan Brady, Aaron McClements and Daniel McCarthy at midfield, and Conor Francis and Rory Mason in attack.
Also looked at in Cavan were Shane Annett, Conor McGrady, Declan McClements, Cory Quinn, Ciaran Harney, and Eoin McCabe.
The ‘veteran’ McArdle admits that everyone in the camp is already looking ahead to bigger challenges: “There is a massive opportunity here. We are in Division Three and we have four home games.
“But Derry were in Division Three last year and, looking at it from the outside, you might have thought Derry would come straight back up, so it can be a tough league. It will be a grind as well.
“But you would hope if we could hit the ground running we could make a push for this league. At the same time, if you take anything for granted… Every one of those teams would be capable of beating you on your day if you are not at yourself.
“There is an opportunity to kick on here and really build on something going into the Championship.
“You be sitting on the bus and boys are already talking about the dry day and the dry sod of the summer. That's what drives those boys on.
“We played Armagh in Newry two summers ago and it was a great result, a great day. It started off a brilliant campaign for Down that year. Hopefully we will do something similar this year and kick on”.