GAA Football

Benny McArdle could return as Down aim to get promotion bid back on track

The experienced Benny McArdle could return for Down's trip to Division Three rivals Sligo this weekend. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

EXPERIENCED defender Benny McArdle could return for Down's trip to Sligo this weekend after missing their opening day defeat to Laois.

Mourne County boss Tally handed out five National League debuts on Saturday night and, despite a promising first 40 minutes, Down eventually succumbed to a strong second half performance from last year's Leinster finalists.

It always had the potential to be a difficult start considering captain Darren O'Hagan, Kevin McKernan and Ryan Johnston were all ruled out due to suspensions carried over from last summer, while the likes of Caolan Mooney, Donal O'Hare, Conor Maginn and Connaire Harrison continue to work their way back to full fitness.

Mooney and O'Hare both came off the bench in Newry and could start against the Yeatsmen on Sunday, while last week's suspended trio are available for selection.

And they could be joined by McArdle. The Annaclone man picked up a muscle injury 10 minutes into Down's Dr McKenna Cup defeat to Donegal on January 6 and hasn't featured since.

Considering both Niall Donnelly and Ryan McAleenan were injured on Saturday night, while Ruairi Wells is currently in New York, McArdle's return would be a timely boost for Tally.

“He mightn't be far away next week, all being well,” said the Down boss.

“Ruairi won't be back next week, he's actually in America at the minute on holidays. He won't be back until the following week.

“Caolan Mooney was a great boost; that was the first game of football he's had with us this year and he put a good 25 minutes in, and Donal looked sharp enough when he was in there too.

“It was good to get those players in and it's going to take that - Benny was a big loss. That sort of night would have been a good one for Benny and then we lost Niall Donnelly unfortunately, and we needed his physical strength in there, so it seemed to be one of those nights.”

Despite eventually going down by six points, the Galbally man can take heart from a first half when Down looked solid and well-organised, limiting the Laois threat and counter-attacking with purpose.

Even in defeat, the experience will stand to a side whose average number of National League appearances was fewer than six.

“The key thing is the experience that those young boys are going to get out of tonight. They will learn from it and that's the key.

“They will look a lot more comfortable in two or three rounds of the League. This was a big start and we had maybe eight, nine players who played no part last year.

“Conor Poland might have been the only forward who was here last year and two new midfielders as well but that's what part of this job is about; you have to rebuild.”

“Tonight was a good improvement [from the McKenna Cup]”, he continued, “I thought some of the football was super. There were a couple of moves we made where it looked as though we were going to get scores out of them, we didn't get scores out of them, but you could see things coming together a bit.”

Taking positives is one thing of course, but losing their opening game in Division Three has now increased the importance of this weekend's trip to Sligo.

With Markievicz Park out of commission due to refurbishment work, the game will be played in Collooney, 10 miles south of Sligo town, as the Mournemen aim to get their promotion hopes back on track.

“It adds more importance to Sligo next week,” said Tally.

“If you had got something out of it tonight you would have taken less pressure on next week but now they have to go to Sligo looking for a result which is going to be very difficult.

“Listen, you have to regroup, but the key thing is there's going to be a lot of learning from tonight, and we might have a bit more experience next week as part of the squad so that'll help things.”

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